Players left dazed and confused


Soccer:The Irish players emerged from the dressingroom both dazed and confused after chasing a ball that seemed to be on a string for most of the 93 minutes eventually played against Spain in Gdansk last night.

Midfielder Glenn Whelan was the only one to suggest they were on a hiding to nothing because of Giovanni Trapattoni’s loyalty to his system, but there was hint of helplessness from all those who stopped, though John O’Shea was forthright in suggesting the players need to look at themselves first.

“If you stop the sloppy mistakes at the start of the game and the start of the second half, well then you have some sort of chance no matter players or what system you are playing,” said the Sunderland defender.

Spain set new standards last night. They broke the record for the most passes in a European Championship match, hitting the target 859 times, compared to the previous high of 778, while Xavi Hernandez, whose artistry in midfield had Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews gasping from early on, completed 127 of those, a 93 per cent success rate.

It was all too much for a team found wanting on talent, if not effort, and the players admitted as much after the 4-0 defeat in which the key blows were struck by Fernando Torres (2), David Silva and Cesc Fabregas.

“They are the best team I’ve played, ever, and probably ever likely to play,” said Sean St Ledger afterwards. “I know everyone talks about how well they keep the ball but on the flipside of that, they are unbelievable at getting it back.

“At times in the first half, each one of us had given the ball away, but it just feels like you don’t have options on it. I don’t know why, but because you are chasing so much that when you get it you’re tired, making angles, and you have to give them full credit for the team they are.”

Jonathan Walters came on at half-time when the manager’s experiment with Simon Cox playing off Robbie Keane did not produce the required results.

The Stoke City player has been the fifth midfielder at club level before but strongly suggested last night that what was being asked of him for the second 45 minutes, wasn’t entirely clear.

“You’d have to ask the manager really,” he said. “I don’t know, whether it be fresh legs or target man, I don’t know.

“He said to come on, come in the hole, and try to pick up the midfield players, similar to what I do at Stoke, but when you’ve got those three midfield players, picking their pockets is going to be difficult.”

Defeat, of course, meant the campaign is over with a game to go. Ireland, on zero points, can earn nothing but pride from the game against Italy on Monday, but every player expressed their gratitude to the fans last night and said their duty was to perform in Poznan.

“The fans have paid a lot of money to come out here,” said St Ledger. “The singing at the end was absolutely incredible, something I’ve never experienced.

“Usually at club level if you’re getting beat 4-0 there are empty seats and you’re getting booed. And they’ve stayed to the end. I can’t speak highly enough of them, we’ve been drawn into a tough group, everybody knew that, but still we came here hoping to qualify.

“That’s not happened and everyone is hugely disappointed about that.”