Cyprus 1 - 2 Republic of Ireland
“The performance over 90 minutes was depressing; it exposed the limitations of the coach’s philosophy.”
Too often Eamonn Dunphy spews nonsense from his comfortable chair in the RTE studio. Presumably God has graced us with his presence to deflate the Irish nation. It is his favourite pastime.
But on this occasion, Dunphy had a point, watching Ireland was depressing last night. Let’s not be fooled by the result. There is still a lot of improvement needed by the men in green.
At times last night it seemed Cyprus were the team ranked 38 while it was Trapattoni’s men who were ranked 76 in the world.
The Cypriots were intent on playing football. Ireland resorted to long, hopeless balls into Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle. The pair were devoid of any service all night.
During the first quarter of an hour, things seemed rosy for Ireland. The demons of the 'Nicosia Horror Show' back in October 2006 were soon banished when Kevin Doyle opened the scoring.
Stephen Hunt fired a corner in. Sean St. Ledger and Keith Andrews ensured the ball remained in the home side’s box. The ensuing scuffle saw the ball find Doyle who pivoted and fired past Avgousti.
The Irish held a narrow one goal advantage, and their early advantage should have seen them grow in confidence and put the game beyond the Cypriots.
Instead their midfield went missing, surrendering possession needlessly, with their ball retention skills were non-existent.
Neither Keith Andrews or Glenn Whelan are palpably good enough in midfield. Both show credible determination, both are tenacious but neither are creative.
Ireland miss a link between the forwards and midfield. The return of Steven Reid will be welcomed by all, if he ever returns, while a new, slimline, Andy Reid deserves a chance.
The Cypriots pressure eventually paid off on the half hour mark. A great tackle by Richard Dunne was rendered pointless when moment later the ball fell to Ilia who rifled a shot past Shay Given in goal.
“The choice of Hunt tonight ahead over McGeady was very telling. He [Trapattoni] prefers in your face aggression which Hunt gives you, to technical ability and the danger McGeady poses”.
Another valid point made by Dunphy. The arrival of the Celtic winger signalled the Italian’s intent. Victory was a must with Italy and Bulgaria winning.
The pace of McGeady posed a different threat to the home sides' defence. Caleb Folan replaced Kevin Doyle as Ireland looked to deploy the “root one” tactic more effectively.
Yet it was two stalwarts of this Irish team who rescued all three points on the night. Robbie Keane and Damien Duff combined to snatch a 2-1 victory.
It was a temporary flash back to the glory days of the Mick McCarthy-Saipan era when the Irish squad was brimming with talent and the duo of Keane and Duff were at the height of their powers.
A right footed cross by Duff tempted Avgousti off his line. Keane leaped ahead of the keeper’s outstretched fists and nodded into the empty net for what turned out to be the winner.
The Irish dug in and saw out the remaining eight minutes.
So what does this mean for Group eight?
Italy remain in pole position with 17 points, Ireland are just behind on 16 points while Bulgaria are third on 12 points. Both Italy and Bulgaria have a game in hand over the Irish, albeit against each other.
The tie against the Italians at Croke Park on October 10 will be crucial. The Azzurri won’t be fazed by an Irish side branded as “modest, without ideas, slow and predictable”.
As a spectator that night in Bari, it is a fair assessment by the Italians of an average Irish side which failed to penetrate the defence of Cannavaro and co, despite holding a one man advantage.
Yet regardless of the team’s flaws, Trapattoni deserves credit. Most Irish fans will admit that the manager is working with a limited side.
He has reaped the awards from a side that is devoid of any real flair or creativity. He has instilled an honest work rate and settled on a solid formation.
The fact remains Ireland are still unbeaten and their hopes of participating in South Africa 2010 lay very much in their own hands.
Of course I can't end this debate without allowing Eamonn Dunphy to have a final word.
"When kids see Lionel Messi, Steven Gerrard, or Ronaldo they want to go out in the park and do what they've seen the guys do the night before. Nobody wants to go out in the park in the morning and hit the ball 60 yards up in air".
The younger generation of Ireland may not be inspired by the long-ball playing style of the men in green in this qualifying campaign. But an appearance in South Africa would create heroes and once more install a sense of pride in the nation.
It's not pretty but it has proven effective, though the Italians await.