Ireland fail to capitalise on Morrison's early strike

Switzerland 1 - Republic of Ireland 1
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The Independent Online

Having failed to take a point from Switzerland in the Euro 2004 qualifying matches, this was some improvement for Ireland. But only some. It could have been much more. Post Portugal and the Swiss were depleted, the Irish restored but, even so, the home side came closer to winning this unruly encounter with Shay Given making four vital saves.

Having failed to take a point from Switzerland in the Euro 2004 qualifying matches, this was some improvement for Ireland. But only some. It could have been much more. Post Portugal and the Swiss were depleted, the Irish restored but, even so, the home side came closer to winning this unruly encounter with Shay Given making four vital saves.

A draw meant Brian Kerr's team achieved his target from their opening two ties. But it also means four nations ­ these two plus France and Israel ­ have four points from Group Four. It is proving to be tight. The Swiss, surprisingly, are top on goal difference. This was Kerr's 21st game but his side lacked maturity. After going ahead ­ from Clinton Morrison's jubilant header ­ they struggled to keep possession. Their vulnerability was laid bare. Kerr called his side "cavalier" but they had the finesse of roundheads. Still, 11 months ago they were destroyed here. There was no semblance of a repeat of that demoralising débâcle.

The Irish had pre-match bonuses. Not only was Roy Keane included ­ for his first competitive appearance in almost three years ­ but Patrick Vieira's dismissal against the Faroe Islands means he will miss France's meeting in Paris against Ireland. "It's not as big a boost as the point away," was Kerr's verdict. The Swiss also had midfield in their thoughts and, stretched, were forced to debut 19-year-old Tranquillo Barnetta, who impressed.

Despite the loss of John O'Shea, the Irish line-up was stronger than it had been in the 3-0 win over Cyprus. Furthermore, just five players remained from last season's meeting. It was the meekness of that defeat which had convinced Kerr to re-introduce Keane. But he made a shocking start and lacked sharpness. Twice in the opening dozen minutes he misplaced passes. For the first, Stephen Carr ­ who had a wild match ­ was forced to body-check and Murat Yakin drove a fierce free-kick from 25 yards which clipped Given's fingers and the crossbar. Then another poor Keane pass allowed Alexandre Rey through and Given saved smartly with his feet.

By then the Irish were ahead. A shot by Andy Reid ­ who struggled ­ was charged down and while he and Robbie Keane argued, the ball cannoned out to Damien Duff. His left-footed cross was headed in by Morrison. It was almost a re-run of his goal against Cyprus and so, after going 777 minutes without an international goal, he had two in consecutive matches. And this one came in the seventh minute.

But the omens were not good. Ireland could not protect their lead. After Given's feet saved again, from Hakan Yakin, another midfield mistake, this time by Kevin Kilbane, turning blindly into trouble, led to the ball being fed to the Swiss play-maker. He calmly made space, and slipped his low shot across Given. Morrison should have restored the lead. But his header, from Robbie Keane's knock back, was pushed out. Roy Keane was booked in the mêlée. As the half ended, a low shot by Robbie Keane struck the goalkeeper's legs.

Ireland did not threaten again. "I talked about tightening the unit," Kerr said, explaining his half-time instructions. His players followed too closely. They stopped seeping chances, but they also stopped creating. However, twice within a minute Murat Yakin was fortunate to escape being sent off. First he held down Kilbane and then he tugged at Robbie Keane.

But it was the Swiss who finished strongly, although the only moment of note was a drive ­ palmed away ­ by Hakan Yakin. Both managers professed themselves happy. "I would have liked six points," said Switzerland's Kobi Kuhn. Kerr would agree. But he made his point. And so did his team.

Switzerland (4-3-1-2): Zuberbuhler (Basle); Haas (West Brom), M Yakin (Basle), Muller (Mallorca), Magnin (Werder Bremen); Cabanas (Grasshoppers), Vogel (PSV Eindhoven), Barnetta (Hanover); H Yakin (Stuttgart); Rey (Neuchatel Xamax), Vonlanthen (PSV Eindhoven). Substitutes: Lonfat (Sochaux) for Vonlanthen, 73.

Republic of Ireland (4-4-2): Given; Carr, O'Brien (all Newcastle), Cunningham (Birmingham), Finnan (Liverpool); Reid (Nottingham Forest), Roy Keane (Manchester United), Kilbane (Everton), Duff (Chelsea); Robbie Keane (Tottenham Hotspur), Morrison (Birmingham). Substitutes: Kavanagh (Cardiff) for Reid, 73; Doherty (Norwich) for Morrison, 84.

Referee: K Vassaras (Greece).

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