TV View: Where there are permutations there is always hope
Moldova prove to be a Duff outfit despite Damien’s long hours on YouTube
Alexandru Gatcan of Moldova makes a spectacular clearance as Ireland’s Callum O’Dowda looks on during the World Cup Group D qualifier at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
The doomsayers among us chucked their copies of the Rough Guide to Russia in the bin after last month’s 1-0 battering by Serbia, regarding this meeting with Moldova as merely a dead rubber-ish exercise in prolonging our pain. But they were, of course, far too hasty with their surrendering – where there are permutations, after all, there is hope.
And they were simple permutations, too, going in to the final couple of qualifying games: if we beat Moldova and Wales and Northern Ireland were mullered in their last two games and Montenegro and Denmark dropped points somewhere and Bosnia and Herzegovina didn’t pick up more than four from their last two and Slovakia didn’t beat both Scotland and Malta and Scotland and Slovenia also dropped points and Greece slipped up against either Cyprus or Gibraltar . . . then there was a half decent chance we’d be in the playoffs. It really couldn’t have been clearer.
It’s at times like this that you pity the likes of German fans, time and again watching their nation monotonously qualify for tournaments without ever experiencing the thrill of permutations that we so regularly enjoy.
Hiding their excitementMind you, Liam, Damien and Richie, aka Messrs Duff, Brady and Sadlier, hid their excitement well, the stress of the latter half of our campaign perhaps leaving them reluctant to ever feel hopeful about permutations again. And Damien had enough on his mind anyway, having been appointed the resident expert on all things Moldovan and asked to run the rule over their team by Darragh Maloney.
He told us the Moldovans weren’t “household names”, but so familiar was he with their line-up – “Dedov is on the left, he drifts in late and can score goals,” he said, neither Liam nor Richie contradicting him – you began to think there’s little chat about anything but Moldovan footballers in Damien’s house. Or else he’d just stayed up all night studying them on YouTube.
He concluded his appraisal by telling us not to read too much into the fact that the Maldives and the Solomon Islands are ahead of Moldova in the Fifa rankings, but that was fairly hard for us to do. Still we’ve had our troubles before against teams ranked below the Maldives and the Solomon Islands, so it’s always important to respect them, Tony O’Donoghue hardly helping by inadvertently calling them San Marino.
Just time for a quick chat about Martin O’Neill’s extended contract, a chat made even briefer when Liam wondered out loud if Denis O’Brien’s loot was involved, a palpitating Darragh leaping in with a cautionary “WE DON’T KNOW THAT FOR SURE”. Anyway, it was time to focus on the match, but you’ll hear further discussion on this issue on Newstalk in the coming days with a string of Irish Times voices (IT Radio Relations Department: “Hello?”)
Match time. George, as only George can, told us that Dutch referee Bas Nijhuis was a butcher like his father but now owns a bakery, but before he could tell us about Bas’s stroopwafels and ontbijtkoeks, Daryl Murphy only went and scored, the clock having advanced a mere one minute and 44 seconds.
And he scored again 18 minutes later, completing a move that began with a Wes crossfield pass that was so delectable, Dunphy would have had to be sedated back in the studio if he hadn’t been given the night off.
Those of who were now anticipating a double-digit triumph that would put a golden sheen on our goal difference were reminded by George that victories over the bottom teams in the groups wouldn’t count in the quest for a playoff place, so we were getting excited about nothing. Ronnie Whelan, though, reminded George that we still had to finish second in the group, so it was no bad thing at all that the floodgates were open.
Already we’d had to cheer an injury-time Harry Kane Wembley winner; the permutations were proving both painful and head-wrecking.
Open floodgates or not, we had to settle for 2-0 at the break. “Well pleased,” said Liam, counting our blessings, although Damien hadn’t seen anything from the Moldovans that matched those YouTube highlight reels – Dedov, for example, not once drifting in from the left and almost scoring. “They’re not great,” he said. “They’re awful, to be frank.”
Give it a restWorryingly, though, the panel began chatting about the prospect of taking players off early to rest them for Monday, and giving a couple of lads debuts. This class of talk only ever leaves you with an overwhelming sense of doom. But we survived, as did Moldova’s goal; 2-0 it remained.
“It’s a cup final in Cardiff on Monday,” said George, before Darragh told us that Serbia had lost to Austria, which meant that first place, second place and third place weren’t decided, which means that what we need to happen in our group and all the others is . . . gawd alone knows.
At least one permutation is simpler now. After a couple of days of “Who do we want to win this one?”, we know who we’ll be rooting for in Cardiff. The Green Lads.