We'll sift through the wreckage for the positives


ANALYSIS:Keith Andrews’ red card shouldn’t obscure the fact he has been our best player, by far

CHANGE THE colour of the opposition shirts and we could have been watching the 3-1 defeat to Croatia or 4-0 drubbing by Spain during last night’s opening 45 minutes.

In fairness, this was a desperately tough group, with Italy looking close to their regal best up to half-time.

Then everything changed. They went into their shells, in typical Italian fashion, sitting on the 1-0 lead, while we went out and had a right old go, producing our best showing in the tournament.

Thankfully, we also had a better start than against Croatia and Spain. It’s just unfortunate we were unable to get a grip on the game, even though there was plenty of space through the heart of the Italians.

They abandoned their 3-5-2 structure to come out and secure the three points that puts them through.

It meant Aiden McGeady and Damien Duff got on the ball more but we didn’t create any real chances. I’d love to see how many shots Robbie Keane has had over the three games. I can only remember the one until his sky rocket into the brilliant Irish fans last night.

But still, it was going okay for a half-hour. We were almost creating chances. It was the lack of familiarity with possession that hurt us.

The goal was another jolt and the energy levels seemed to dip. I feared the worse but 2-0, unfortunately, is an improvement.

Yet again, we were guilty of conceding avoidable goals. Same problem, different game. Unable to maintain basic possession, we coughed up a corner and were caught on the near post by Cassano.

It was terrible to witness; set-pieces are supposed to be our forte – both as an attacking weapon and in defence, with the physical presence of Richard Dunne in particular.

When you concede a goal from open play it can usually be put down to quality build-up play or someone being skinned in a one-on-one situation. Both Italian goals came from corners. That is not like the Republic of Ireland. The defenders are assigned to the opposition’s major aerial threats. You can get close to them. Even get a hold of them.

Goal one: Cassano got in front of Keith Andrews and his header beat Shay at the near post. Goal two: Balotelli held off John O’Shea for a smashing finish. Plain and simple.

I felt this was a great chance for Trapattoni to launch preparations for the Brazil 2014 qualifying campaign. But the manager stuck with his usual suspects. A team that has failed to deliver.

For me, there was an overwhelming argument to give a few young fellas a taste of the highest level of the game. I’m talking about players who will eventual replace the old guard.

Not that I want to see Dunne, Robbie, Duffer or Shay retire from international football. We still need them. We should manage them until suitable replacements step forward.

But last night Trapattoni sent out a sentimental starting XI. That wins you nothing in sport.

It was the same game plan we saw against Spain and Croatia; a plan that has failed to deliver.

We were compact again, solid.

Maybe we were just unlucky this past fortnight. Maybe it would have worked differently with a bit of luck.

Maybe if those early goals in the first two matches had been kept out the story would have been different.

I still don’t think we would have made the knockout stages but we would have at least ruined it for someone else.

At least that could be seen as an achievement, because the return from these three matches leaves me cold. The last 45 minutes was honest but that was as much down to Italian nerves. They got over them long enough to put us away.

We will have to sift through the wreckage and find some positives. Keith Andrews had a fine campaign, unlucky not to score with a header or a number of shots. Swamped in the middle of the park, he courageously forced his way into every game.

His red card last night shouldn’t overshadow the fact he has been our best player. Like everyone else, I thought that would be Shay or Dunne, or maybe McGeady. None of these players had a good tournament.

But for Andrews to stand out in an outnumbered midfield, trust me, is some achievement, what with the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Modric and Pirlo spraying the ball around. He played with a fearlessness and desire that was missing from others.

Andrews has earned the right to enjoy his summer holidays. He had a go. Others did not.

The squad breaks up this morning, heading off to a beach or just home. Lots to ponder, but mostly just regret.

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