Agony for Kerr as Ireland are closed out

Republic of Ireland 0 Switzerland 0
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The Independent Online

The missed opportunities did not come against Switzerland. Ireland created precious little here. They came in earlier matches as a campaign full of promise disintegrated to such an extent that it was baldly declared a "shambles" by former manager, and now pundit, Johnny Giles while Liam Brady accused the current manager Brian Kerr of "chancing" to get results. John O'Shea - lost in central midfield - and the recalled Matt Holland were also severely attacked while the Irish clearly lacked any team pattern.

It was a coruscating post-match verdict and will have not gone unnoticed by the Football Association of Ireland, which clearly has no intention of offering Kerr the new contract he so desperately craves.

He does not, in truth, deserve it. "I've given it my best," said the man with the demeanour of someone who knew it was all over for him. "My full commitment over the last two and three-quarter years. I think overall our record has been quite good." But not good enough. Ireland have finished fourth in Group Four, with France the victors and the Swiss in the play-offs.

But Kerr rounded on his detractors. "There have been a lot of critics. Some of them have not done particularly well in management themselves. Some have not even tried it."

With his agent Fintan Drury watching, he said he had made his intentions clear to the FAI. He wants to stay. But he added: "It's out of my hands."

As is participation in next summer's World Cup. Kerr could rail all he likes about precious little luck or the failings of referee Markus Merk, who was poor, but it is his own stewardship of a team that has visibly crumbled in the last few months that is culpable. And with this sad exit will also probably go the international careers of Roy Keane - absent last night through injury - Kenny Cunningham and Holland. The FAI will fail in its efforts to coax Keane to succeed Kerr, although there is no need for them to act in haste.

Haste was lacking against Switzerland even if Ireland should have scored after 90 seconds. But Ian Harte headed past the far post when unmarked from Andy Reid's corner. They did not come as close again and Kerr even withdrew Robbie Keane before the end.

Indeed, the best chances fell to the Swiss who were composed in midfield, an area where Ireland were simply frantic. On the half-hour the impressive Tranquillo Barnetta cut inside from the right and picked out Alexander Frei. Somehow, Switzerland's top scorer, in the clear, sent his header wide. It was one of three good openings he spurned.

In the second half Frei, sent through, was thwarted by a wonderful Shay Given save and then he was only a stud's width away from connecting with a low, skidding cross.

At times the Irish pushed but it was a pinball approach. Balls thudded around the peripheries, failing to penetrate as half-chances were mishit or missed altogether. On came Stephen Elliott but little changed before another substitute, Steven Reid, forced Pascal Zuberbuhler to tip over.

At the end the Swiss sank to their knees. They needed to win to avoid the play-offs and it was a further indictment of Kerr's team that they came close to achieving that. And so, also, for the second successive major tournament Ireland have been eliminated by Switzerland. Last time round Kerr blamed his predecessor Mick McCarthy, who lost his job after losing to the Swiss in 2002. This time round Kerr knows there is no one to blame but himself.

Republic of Ireland (4-4-2): Given; Carr (both Newcastle), Dunne (Manchester City), Cunningham (Birmingham City), Harte (Levante); A Reid (Tottenham Hotspur), O'Shea (Manchester United), Holland (Charlton Athletic), Kilbane (Everton); Morrison (Crystal Palace), Keane (Tottenham Hostpur). Substitutes: Elliott (Sunderland) for Keane, 67; S Reid (Blackburn Rovers) for Andy Reid, 79; Doherty (Norwich City) for Morrison, 87.

Switzerland (4-1-2-1-2): Zuberbühler (Basle); Degen (Borussia Dortmund), Senderos (Arsenal), Müller (Basle), Magnin (Stuttgart); Vogel (Milan); Barnetta (Bayer Leverkusen), Wicky (Hamburg); Cabanas (Grasshoppers); Vonlanthen (PSV Eindhoven), Frei (Rennes). Substitutes: Streller (Stuttgart) for Vonlanthen, 53; Gygax (Lille) for Wicky, 89.

Referee: M Merk (Germany).

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