Shaqiri’s free-kick consigns John O’Shea’s Ireland to narrow defeat against Switzerland

Former Liverpool forward strikes with a first half free-kick as Ireland cannot force an equaliser despite late pressure

Republic of Ireland 0 Switzerland 1

Bottom line from the top, Switzerland deserved victory over the Republic of Ireland thanks to a Xherdan Shaqiri goal mid-way through the first-half.

The rest will be forgotten.

It was not all bad from this limited Irish group, which cannot be faulted for their desire to turn a seemingly relentless tide. Maybe, years from now, this night will be remembered as the moment Finn Azaz made his debut. Choosing his Irish relatives over his Israeli roots, Azaz arrived late on as the old Lansdowne footrush almost fashioned an equaliser.



Matters have taken such a bizarre turn that just before half-time the FAI was compelled to rule Roberto Di Matteo out of the running for the Ireland job. The Champions League-winning former Chelsea manager was at the game last night in the president’s box, beside Jonathan Hill no less.

Sure, Di Matteo would hardly cut ties with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the South Korean League 1 to take up permanent residence in Castleknock Hotel.

Strange days nonetheless.

The atmosphere inside the stadium before kick-off reflected the mood around Irish football: muted, until murmurings among the 35,742 attendance became a smattering of cheers for Séamus Coleman’s team.

Coleman won the player of the match, for what it was worth.

Earlier on Tuesday evening, a report in The Irish Independent cast doubt over Hill’s future as FAI chief executive, following his damaging appearance before the Public Accounts Committee in Leinster House last month. Hill told the joint-Oireachtas hearing that he did not “request” cash instead of holidays in 2022, which he was forced to repay after a Sport Ireland audit, yet an email by the CEO appears to contradict his statement to the politicians.

Grim days on and off the pitch.

John O’Shea stuck to the formation that held Belgium to a goal-less draw last Saturday. Injury to Chiedozie Ogbene meant Mikey Johnston started on the left with Sammie Szmodics moving to the right of a front three serving Evan Ferguson.

Gavin Bazunu replaced Caoimhín Kelleher in goal while Jason Knight got the nod over Will Smallbone.

Same compact, eager Ireland against Euros-bound opposition. Same sad state of affairs.

The difference between the sides was clear; in Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka the Swiss possess technically superior players that Irish football continues to dream about.

True, Szmodics almost put Coleman through on goal, only for the linesman to flag the run offside, but when kick came to hack, Shaqiri had the visitors ahead. Now at Chicago Fire, the 32-year-old’s curling, left-footed free-kick beat Bazunu and nestled in the bottom corner of the Irish net. The goal came because Dara O’Shea elected to chop down Zeki Amdouni before the Bologna man could skip into the box.

Johnston was a genuine threat off the left but his final ball gave little chance of Ireland equalising. Robbie Brady tried next, his in-swinging free-kick was sent across goal by O’Shea but Andrew Omobamidele could not generate enough power behind his header to trouble Yvon Mvogo.

Xhaka took leave of proceedings at half-time but not before the Bayer Leverkusen star hit the butt of Bazunu’s post. Two-nil at the turn would have forced change but 1-0 prompted O’Shea to double down on his starting eleven.

That plan was abandoned in the 57th minute when Will Smallbone, Adam Idah and Matt Doherty arrived.

Alas, an overhead kick by Idah missed the target after another Brady delivery found Doherty who cushioned the ball for the Celtic striker to finish. Idah had another look at the whites of Mvogo’s eyes before the end. Same result. High and wide.

O’Shea, Ireland and this listless occasion needed a touch of spectacular. But no joy. None at all as Switzerland had Ireland’s number, easily containing them as they build towards tougher opponents this summer’s Euros against Scotland, Hungary and host nation Germany.

By the way, Willy Sagnol’s Georgia are also Euros-bound after beating Gus Poyet’s Greece on penalties in Tuesday night’s play-off. Rumour has it the runners-up prize is the Ireland gig. Rumours, denials and still no goal for Evan Ferguson.

Ireland: Bazunu; Omobamidele (Doherty, 57), Collins, O’Shea; Coleman, Cullen (Azaz, 87), Knight (Smallbone, 57), Brady (O’Dowda, 79); Szmodics (Sykes, 79), Ferguson, Johnston (Idah, 57).

Switzerland: Mvogo; Elevdi, Schär (Omeragic, 79), Widmer; Cömert, Shaqiri (Okafor, 75), Xhaka (Freuler, half-time), Aebischer, Sierrro (Zakaria, 65); Ndoye (Kutesa, 65), Amdouni.

Referee: Pawel Raczkowski (Poland)

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent