Road to Rio almost hits a road block


WORLD CUP 2014 QUALIFYING Kazakhstan 1 Rep of Ireland 2:GIOVANNI TRAPATTONI’S side completed a remarkable escape act here last night where late goals by Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle ensured Ireland kicked their World Cup campaign off with a win. The visitors trailed until the 88th minute, at which point they faced the very real prospect of suffering what would have been a humiliating defeat.

As the minutes slipped by Ireland, having fallen behind late in the first half, did little enough to suggest they could salvage a point, never mind all three, but the team’s strikers ultimately turned things on their head in a space of 90 seconds or so.

Keane first won a penalty – which he converted – after being bundled into the goal by Mikhail Rozhkov as he tried to get onto the end of a Doyle cross. The Wexford man then completed the turnaround with a thumping strike from the middle of the area after Stephen Ward had turned a Glenn Whelan free into his path.

It was an astonishing comeback by a side that played poorly and might easily have conceded one or two more at the other end. The manner of the victory could not have been all that much less impressive and yet the players did at least show the character required to keep at their tasks until the dying minutes and to take the chances that eventually came their way.

Regardless of how it was earned, the win means Ireland have avoided a potentially fatal slip at the very first hurdle of this qualifying race and few will worry about the quality of the performance here if things improve.

The team made its usual attempt to hit the ground running but three early corners yielded nothing, with the visitors struggling, it seemed, to control the ball when under any sort of pressure.

James McCarthy did force an early save from Andrey Sidelnikov but his shot was far too tame to actually beat the 32-year-old, whose involvement over the course of the rest of the opening half was generally limited to collecting a few high balls under pressure from the likes of Jon Walters or Keane.

The quality of what he had to deal with was generally poor, with Aiden McGeady, for instance, failing to seriously trouble either the goalkeeper or his big centre-halves with a succession of attempted crosses. The approach was somewhat baffling given that the locals consistently looked more vulnerable when the ball was kept on the ground.

Ireland certainly enjoyed enough possession to make more of an impact over the first 45 minutes. There were a couple of occasions when they might have snatched something but there was very little sustained pressure.

Keane did do well at one point to control a throw from the right and shoot but the attempt on goal was a couple of yards wide. On one of the other rare occasions the locals looked rattled Simon Cox was still lining up his shot when he was dispossessed just inside the area.

The hosts, by contrast, looked both confident and quick as they broke forward at intervals. As early as the 17th minute they gave Ireland’s back four a wake up call with Tanat Nusserbayev doing well to work the ball towards the opposition area from midfield. He then pushed the ball wide beyond John O’Shea, who would have been in an awful lot of trouble if left back Alexandr Kirov had made the run his team-mate expected.

Keiren Westwood then reacted more quickly than Ulan Konysbayev to another, shorter angled pass and did well to take the ball from the midfielder’s feet. He was forced into a fine stop minutes before the break when Konysbayev’s long range strike looked to be heading for the bottom right corner. But there was little he could do to prevent the goal that came between the two incidents. Not for the first time, he was left exposed by those in front of him.

Having done well enough over the opening half an hour or so, Ward conceded a needless free kick out on Kazakhstan’s right wing. From there the home side gave the visitors a lesson in the art of set-pieces, with Genrikh Shmidtgal floating an enticing ball in for his unmarked captain, Kairat Nurdauletov, to head perfectly beyond the goalkeeper. The home crowd, generally excitable, went wild.

The visitors limped to the break without conceding a second and returned looking a little more purposeful. McCarthy pushed the ball around well at times and McGeady threatened but never quite managed to open the locals up.

Essentially the search for an equaliser became ever more centred on knocking high balls in the direction of the opposition six-yard box but almost every one was either headed clear or safely gathered by the goalkeeper.

At the other end, things weren’t quite so straightforward. Ireland’s back four was caught out more than once by misjudged attempts to play offside and Westwood, who had to save well again from Baurzhan Jolchiyev after a mix up in front of him, repeatedly ran forward to berate his team-mates.

Trapattoni’s reaction to it all was predictable enough, with Doyle replacing Cox early in the second half and Shane Long arriving on for Walters not long after. Both made themselves busy but it was Doyle’s contribution that was ultimately critical on a night that most of those involved will hope is quickly forgotten.

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