Ireland don't possess enough to win
Slovakia 1 Rep of Ireland 1:HAVING SEEN his side lose a lead and miss a penalty, Giovanni Trapattoni might just come off second best in an argument about whether this was one point gained or two lost but like the large travelling support that witnessed last night’s roller coaster of a game in Zilina, the Italian will take some consolation from the intensity of the team performance that earned Ireland a draw.
The Irish were, on balance, worth their point and could have few complaints by the end at having failed to take all three for they had to keep their heads just to survive some sustained pressure during the latter stages of the second half.
If he couldn’t get the better of his rival in any other way, Vladimir Weiss at least underlined which coach could make the greater impact with the changes he made from the bench by reinvigorating his side with a double substitution 20 minutes from time that seemed to shift the balance of things in his side’s favour.
In the end, though, his side simply wasn’t good enough to press home their advantage and, while Russia finally have their noses in front in this particular qualification race, it might be quite a while yet before the chasing pack sorts itself out.
Still, it was a decidedly mixed night for the Irish. After leading for a while due an opportunistic strike by Sean St Ledger and squandering the chance to double their advantage from the penalty spot, Trapattoni’s men showed enormous fighting spirit to take a precious point home with them.
If they had been looking to provide early evidence of a more settled approach, on the other hand, then they failed with possession repeatedly surrendered during the opening exchanges in midfield.
What was quickly confirmed, though, was the Slovaks were no great shakes at ball retention at that stage themselves and, though a great deal of what followed fell a fair way short of what might be expected from a game involving second and third ranked teams in a European qualification group, it was certainly exciting.
The hosts had just about the better of it early on. Gradually, though, Trapattoni’s men settled into the contest and it was clear they were more than capable of posing a major threat to Jan Mucha’s goal. Shane Long may not have brought quite the presence to Ireland’s front line that Kevin Doyle tends to these days but the energy levels around Robbie Keane were undiminished and both of the wide men, Keith Fahey and Aiden McGeady, started to cause the Slovak full-backs a good deal of discomfort.
Fahey, in for his first competitive start after Liam Lawrence had failed a fitness test, was the first to make an impact, getting back to make a couple of important interventions as the locals started to push forward from midfield.
Weiss’s men looked in trouble when Jan Durica put in a clumsy challenge on Long out towards the right flank; Fahey whipped in a dangerous looking free-kick that Durica cleared only as far as St Ledger who coolly side-footed to the bottom right corner before Tomas Hubocan could block the shot. The Irish fans went wild in celebration while the locals seemed a little stunned by it all.
Both sides had chances to score next with Weiss looking to alter the shape of his attack by pushing up Stanislav Sestak, who had spent the earliest exchanges switching between the right wing and all out attack while Marek Hamsik sought to open the Irish up from just behind Erik Jendrisek.
It continued to be as open at one end as the other, however, and after Keane had failed to control a terrible ball out by Mucha that should really have paved the way to a second, the Slovaks got their equaliser courtesy of a poorly defended corner.
Hamsik floated the ball over the left and Juraj beat Kevin Kilbane, John O’Shea and Long at the near post from where he flicked on for Durica, who had lost Glenn Whelan, to head home.
Still, the Irish could have gone in for the break ahead with the Spanish referee handing the visitors a penalty when McGeady beat Radoslav Zabavnik to a terrific long angled pass by Richard Dunne and clattered into Mucha after trying to lift the ball over the Slovak goalkeeper. Keane, though, had his spot-kick well saved and the hosts scrambled the ball to safety.
As the second half wore on the pace seemed to quicken and while the Slovaks had a couple of strong spells, especially towards the end, Trapattoni’s side never looked content with the prospect of a point.
Darron Gibson, on for the injured Paul Green from before the break, had a shot blocked down from the edge of the area after a swift break out of defence but Keane came closest to nicking it for the visitors, firing over on the turn after the host had failed to cut out a Kilbane cross from the left.
SLOVAKIA: Mucha (Everton); Zabavnik (Mainz), Salata (Slovan Bratislava), Durica (Lokomotiv Moscow), Hubocan (Zenit St Petersburg); Sestak (Ankaragucu), Karhan (Mainz), Kucka (Sparta Prague), Weiss (Rangers); Hamsik (Napoli); Jendrisek (Schalke 04). Subs: Holosko (Besiktas) and Stoch (Fenerbahce) for Sestak and Weiss (68 mins), Oravec (Schalke 04) for Jendrisek (83 mins).
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND:Given (Manchester City); O’Shea (Manchester United), Dunne (Aston Villa), St Ledger (Preston NE), Kilbane (Hull City); Fahey (Birmingham City), Green (Derby Co), Whelan (Stoke City), McGeady (Spartak Moscow); Long (Reading), Keane (Tottenham). Subs: Gibson (Manchester United) for Green (40 mins), Keogh (Cardiff City) for Fahey (70 mins), Foley (Wolves) for McGeady (90 mins).
Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco (Spain).