Austria strike the final chord in chilly thriller

Questions raised over Trapattoni’s tactics after concession of last-minute equaliser

Shocked Republic of Ireland fans after Austria equalised just before the final whistle during the Republic of Ireland v Austria World Cup qualification game. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Shocked Republic of Ireland fans after Austria equalised just before the final whistle during the Republic of Ireland v Austria World Cup qualification game. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Wed, Mar 27, 2013, 07:45

It wasn't quite The Sound of Music ,not least becuse of the unhappy ending. But apparently inspired by Alpine conditions and the visit of Austria, the Republic of Ireland soccer team gave home fans one of the more entertaining nights in recent memory last night when playing out a four-goal thriller at the Aviva Stadium.

Maybe Manuela Spinelli, Giovanni Trapattoni's charismatic translator, has been giving the team lessons in self-expression. Whatever the reason, the Trap family singers threw off their normal regimentation, at least for the first half, and delivered a performance that warmed hearts, if not hands and feet.

Unfortunately, the win it deserved - tantalisingly close at one point - didn't quite happen. With seconds left, the visitors struck the show’s last chord, to depressing effect. And truth to tell, we saw it coming, as Captain Von Trap's innate caution had long reasserted itself by then.

Mind you, it looked like being a lot worse early on. There were only 10 minutes gone when the home team fell behind, Serbian-born Zlatko Junuzovic exploiting a defensive error and squaring the ball for German-born Martin Harnik to put Austria/the United Nations a goal up.

Before we could even organise a chorus of Climb Ev'ry Mountain , however, the sides were level.Panicky Austrian defending made short work of Long (Shane), illegally. And despite having to face most of visiting supporters, behind the Austrian goal, Jonathan Walters converted the penalty.

Not long afterwards, the same Long came within inches of a piece of sporting immortality. Had his cheeky back-heel gone inside the post instead of hitting it, he would have been assured a place in the pantheon. But before half time, Ireland had the lead anyway.

First there was a short snow blizzard that made at least some of the Austrians feel at home. Then, lulled into false complacency, they gave away a corner, taken by Glenn Whelan. Walters struck again and it was 2-1 at the break.

Unfortunately, this was the cue for a Trapattoni-style retreat into caution, as Ireland fell deeper and deeper into defence in the second half and Austria increasingly owned the ball. From thenon, the game was nail-biting. And in the end, we ran out of luck as well as nails.

Happily, the celebrating visitors resisted any urge to sing So Long, Farewell, (Auf Wiedersehn, Goodbye) to Ireland's chances of qualifying for Brazil next year. But if they had, it would have been hard to disagree with the sentiment.