Walters strikes to ensure Ireland and Austria share spoils of war
Frank McNally: Late charge after cavalry’s arrival not enough to see off invaders
Increasingly frustrated Ireland supporters: Wes Hoolahan’s 71st-minute arrival was greeted as if he were the coming of the cavalry in person. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
The Republic of Ireland’s advance on Moscow remained more or less intact on a sweaty night in Dublin, after they came from behind against Austria to snatch yet another in Irish soccer’s epic series of famous 1-1 draws.
Despite Roy Keane’s controversial prematch declaration of war on the visitors, the home team had spent much of the game defending, and then chasing down an Austrian lead.
They did eventually organise a meaningful cavalry charge late on, and it might have been enough to win. But when the referee imposed a truce, after 94 minutes, the sides had to settle for shared spoils – a result that leaves Ireland’s chances of qualification for the 2018 World Cup, in Russia, in better shape than Austria’s.
With the raucous Irish supporters occupying the western, eastern and southern fronts of the Aviva Stadium beforehand, the small but lively Austrian contingent was confined to the cramped northern end of the ground.
As if in answer to Keane’s call to arms, Amhrán na bhFiann received a rare outing on the war pipes, courtesy of Achill Pipeband, whose stirring rendition sounded from glen to glen, bouncing off another Glenn – the Irish midfielder Whelan – en route.
Austria took a deserved lead after half an hour with a manoeuvre of which the Habsburg imperial army would have been proud
The Austrian anthem was sedate by comparison. But once the game started it was the away team that looked by far the more martial of the two. And they took a deserved lead after half an hour with a manoeuvre of which the Habsburg imperial army would have been proud.
A corner from the left was fired low across the penalty area, mowing down any daisies that had escaped the groundsman. It seemed to be aimed at Sebastian Prödl, whose run wrong-footed the defence.
But before you could say “training ground move” he stepped over it, allowing the ball to run to the real marksman, the full back Martin Hinteregger, who struck like a sniper.
By contrast with the well-drilled visitors Ireland looked severely uncoordinated in the first half: less Habsburg than mishabsburg. And their defences might have been obliterated early in the second half when Austria had two chances to stretch the lead.
With the home supporters increasingly frustrated, Wes Hoolahan’s 71st-minute arrival on the field was greeted as if he were the coming of the cavalry in person. And his first contribution was to fire a beautiful left-footer across the bows of the Austrian six-yard box, almost forcing an own goal.
Ireland went even closer minutes later, Robbie Brady’s cross from a corner skidding off Kevin Long’s head only for an Austrian shin to get in the way on the goal line.
The visitors must have thought it their night by then. But, Keane’s bellicose comments aside, the other story to dominate prematch exchanges had been the fact that an Austrian player was missing the game to attend his wedding.
And not only were the away team minus the groom: it also turned out that Ireland had the best man. Perhaps inevitably, he was the one whose surname sounds like a whole group of Austrians: “Walters”.
The striker sealed a man-of-the match performance when fastening on to a long ball in the 86th minute and volleying it into a corner of Heinz Lindner’s net, to the relief and joy of the home supporters.
It was now Austria’s turn to defend desperately, as the home team attacked in a way that must finally have warmed their assistant coach’s warlike heart
No sooner had the celebrations died down than it looked as if Ireland had won it – until Shane Duffy’s goal-line header was disallowed.
It was now Austria’s turn to defend desperately, as the home team attacked in a way that must finally have warmed their assistant coach’s warlike heart. But the visitors held out, and, after all the hostilities, the draw was a fair result.