Defeat shows Irish ill-equipped but not without glimmers of promise
GROUP C ITALY 2 REPUBLIC OF IRELAND 0:IRELAND’S ILL-fated European Championship adventure ended as it had begun back here in Poznan last night with a two-goal defeat that, despite some signs of improvement, served to underline how ill-equipped Giovanni Trapattoni’s side really arefor life at this level.
For most of a lively contest the Irish did enough to keep the hope alive that they might somehow salvage a point and some pride to take home with them from Poland.
But they were generally second-best and always up against it after Antonio Cassano had given the Italians the lead just over half an hour in. It was a soft goal and there could have been another one or two, but there were distinct signs of improvement too.
Showing more application and determination was only ever going to get them so far, though. What they lacked was the quality in pretty much every department that would have been required to be a real match for opponents like Italy, and when Mario Balotelli doubled his side’s advantage just after Keith Andrews had been sent off in the dying moments of the game, the scoreline better reflected the balance.
Trapattoni must have been encouraged by the start his side made, with early pressure forcing Italian mistakes and the Irish suddenly looking at least a little like their old selves.
Doyle, back leading the attack, made a storming start, covering ground to unsettle opponents and steal possession before turning and leading the charge back upfield.
Still, there was a touch of naivety to his decision to stay on his feet when he was clearly tugged by Andrea Barzagli inside the box and in front of the referee seven minutes in. He didn’t even get a corner and Federico Balzaretti showed how these situations can be handled rather more effectively shortly afterwards with the left back collapsed under a Robbie Keane nudge to win a free and relieve the pressure.
Damien Duff and Aiden McGeady both looked up for it and Keane was clearly more comfortable back playing in the deeper-lying role. Best of all, though, with the Italians playing Andrea Pirlo behind a more advanced midfield three, Andrews and Glenn Whelan did not, for the first time at this tournament, find themselves completely swamped.
Quite why Cesare Prandelli opted to allow the Irish to compete on equal terms in such a key area when their inability to cope when outnumbered had been at the heart of so many of their problems up to this was bewildering, but as the game progressed and Irish energy levels began to sag a little, it mattered less. The quality of the Italians simply began to tell.
This is not a side that closes opponents down with anything like the speed of the Spaniards but they still know better than most how to make life difficult for opponents in possession.
The Irish found themselves with more time and space to play with but often it was not enough and they completed only a little more than half the passes they attempted, compared to more than 80 per cent for Prandelli’s men, and some of the Irish errors were simply unforgivable at this level.