Ireland beat world champions Germany to move closer to qualification

Shane Long strike books play-off spot with automatic qualification still on cards

Republic of Ireland 1 Germany 0

Fourteen years after that memorable day when the Dutch were beaten here, the Irish team finally took another scalp worthy of the term at the Aviva last night. The Germans might put it down to a recurrence of their World Cup hangover but even they may watch Shane Long's winning goal back with grudging admiration.

It was a stunning strike to crown a quite staggering effort by an Irish side that was outplayed and outmanoeuvred for long stretches but which simply refused to accept that they were going to be beaten. Late on, the new Lansdowne Road finally rocked for a while the way old one used to and the world champions left, as they say, knowing that they’d been in a game.

The similarities with 2001 didn’t end with the scoreline but there was none of the luck. Sure, the Germans will rue the poor finishing that marred their efforts at key moments in both halves but there was no sense of injustice about this. Ireland battled at the back as they have always done on their best days and Long, in that one sweet moment, ensured that they took their one outstanding chance when it finally came.


The team's reward is a guarantee of the play-off place that Martin O'Neill had said he would accept two defeats for. But as it turned out, the result in Glasgow means that the destination of the group's second place and an automatic spot at next summer's finals in France, is ever so finely balanced between the two sides that will face each other on Sunday in Warsaw with a draw in which Ireland score two goals or more good enough to put Ireland through automatically.

In terms of the team selection, the manager was good as his word when it came to the positive intentions. With David Meyler omitted and Stephen Ward returning to the left-back slot, Robbie Brady was pushed forward into midfield, while Wes Hoolahan retained his central role behind Jon Walters and Daryl Murphy.

It was a nice idea but the cracks didn't take long to appear. With no real width to the team in midfield and the Irish back four trying to remain compact, the Germans were soon pushing on down the flanks to the point where Matthias Ginter and Marco Reus were a permanent danger.

Initially the greater problem was down Ireland's right where Cyrus Christie was learning a lesson or two about how much faster than Gibraltar the really top teams move. With Ginter gradually became a thorn in the team's side that had to be addressed, and after a spell during which Walters seemed to be calling whether he needed to chase back on a case by case basis, Brady was handed prime responsibility for the right back.

It all made for a desperately difficult opening spell for the home side with players seeking guidance from their manager and O’Neill so anxious to dish it out up and down the sidelines that he had to be returned to his technical area more than once.

The Germans will wonder quite how they didn’t score over those opening 20 minutes or so but rather more remarkably, an effort by Mesut Özil disallowed for a clear offside was the closest thing they had to an actual shot on target in the first half.

Still, they were creating a steady stream of chances, most of which were blocked by Irish players making lunges of the vaguely desperate variety, although there was the odd moment of standout composure as when Richard Keogh cut out a Ginter ball that Mario Götze was already swinging a leg to tap home.

John O’Shea worked relentlessly to keep them at bay while James McCarthy’s contributions were rather more erratic to start with. There were, to be fair, plenty of important interventions but too often the pass that followed was poor and he was nearly to blame for a German opener when he carelessly surrendered possession then failed to cut out a Thomas Müller cross that Özil somehow pushed wide of the far post as Shay Given simply looked hopefully on.

Given's night was cut short by a twisted knee suffered as he tried to kick the ball out and so, in the 42nd minute, Darren Randolph came on to make his competitive debut. At that stage, it promised to be a challenging first real night on the job.

For all that, though, Ireland were still looking to attack the Germans whenever the opportunity arose with Brady and Hoolahan both outstanding contributors at times. The difficulty Ireland sometimes had keeping the ball when they had it prompted the occasional bout of ironic cheering when they strung a few passes together, but the tone of it would change in an instant when one of the pair looked to put a team-mate into space and more than once it seemed as though they had the makings of a goal in them.

The closest one of them came to actually creating it was when Brady made a darting run towards the area and slip the ball almost square to Murphy whose first-time shot flew not too far wide of the target. Moments later, the Ipswich striker made way for Long and within five minutes of that, he had fired Ireland in front with the most important goal of his international career to date.

To call the build-up a move would be to flatter it but after Walters had been appealing for a penalty following a budge by Mats Hummels, the ball ended up with Randolph who belted it beyond the striker as he wandered back towards halfway and into the path of the substitute. The Southampton striker was being chased by three defenders, with Jéröme Boateng the closest of them, but all that earned him in the end was a ringside seat as Long let loose and the ball flew far beyond the helpless Manuel Neuer and into the far top corner.

What followed was by far the most thrilling half an hour of football witnessed in this stadium since the old place was knocked. Müller should have nipped it the mounting excitement in the bud when Jonas Hector found him in acres of space with a cross from the left but the Bayern Munich missed the target entirely. Randloph then saved well from Gündogan and the 28-year-old kept his head brilliantly through the closing stages.

Everybody played their part in the end, though. They had to. These were the world champions they were beating.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Given (Stoke City); Christie (Derby County), O'Shea (Sunderland), Keogh (Derby County), Ward (Burnley); Hendrick (Hull City), McCarthy (Everton), Brady (Norwich City); Hoolahan (Norwich City); Walters (Stoke City), Murphy (Ipswich Town).

Subs: Randolph (West Ham) for Given (42 mins), Long (Southampton) for Murphy (65 mins), Meyler (Hull City) for Ward (69 mins)

GERMANY: Neuer (Bayern Munich); Ginter (Borussia Dortmund), Hummels (Borussia Dortmund), Boateng (Bayern Munich), Hector(Cologne); Kroos (Real Madrid), Gündo?an (Borussia Dortmund), Reus (Borussia Dortmund); Götze (Bayern Munich), Müller (Bayern Munich), Özil (Arsenal).

Subs: Schürrle (Wolfsberg) for Götze (35 mins), Bellarabi (Bayer Leverkusen) for Ginter (77 mins), Volland (Hoffenheim) for Gündogan (85 mins).

Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo (Spain)

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times