Irish frustrated but destiny still in their hands

Israel 1 Rep of Ireland 1
Click to follow

Half-time: 0-1 Att: 39,000

Half-time: 0-1 Att: 39,000

By Jason Burt at Ramat Gan Stadium

Having Involved themselves in one so-called "group of the banana skins", only to ultimately find it fruitless, the Republic of Ireland are now engaged in another.

The group is so-called because of the maddening ability of each nation to take points from each other and Ireland will fear that their World Cup campaign could suffer the same ending as their bid to qualify for Euro 2004. It does not help to avoid déjà vu that they will, probably, have to beat Switzerland this autumn.

However, this time their destiny forcefully remains theirs to decide. The bitter, numbing disappointment of conceding an injury-time equaliser to Israel, after leading for 86 minutes, was tempered once they returned to their Tel Aviv hotel to discover that France had, once more, failed to score in Paris. Their draw with the Swiss leaves Group Four as the tightest of four-horse races with Ireland, marginally, at its head. Unfortunately, it appears Ireland will have to win it to reach Germany.

Because the Israelis scored so late, and because the Irish entrenched so deeply, the reaction was one of anger and frustration. Instead of a short-neck, Ireland could be pulling away. Instead of going into the summer's double-header buoyant, they find themselves bobbing with their heads just above the water.

Manager Brian Kerr came in for some fierce criticism. "A mentally lazy manager," was the verdict of that perennially acerbic pundit Eamonn Dunphy about his lack of substitutions. It brought a sharp echo of his inability to alter things in Basle in 2003, when the Irish lost pitifully during the last campaign.

That is harsh. Victory, as Kerr said, would have been "fantastic". By the same standard, a draw was acceptable and he rightly added: "The group is finely balanced. Everyone is under pressure and who knows what the points total is going to be?"

The words from his players, however, betrayed disappointment and the realisation that the lost points could come back to haunt them. "We feel as if we have lost the game," said Shay Given who pulled off a superb reflex save to deny a vicious Idan Tal free-kick. "Do you push for another goal and sit tight and try to defend what you have? Looking back we probably should have tried to get another goal."

Kevin Kilbane was equally honest. "We didn't do enough," said the midfielder, who vied with Kenny Cunningham as Ireland's most effective performer. With France's visit to Tel Aviv on Wednesday in mind, he added: "Realistically, if you want to win the group, I think you have to come here and win."

Kilbane hit the mark - which is exactly what Clinton Morrison did after just four minutes. His goal, hooking in from the narrowest of angles from Damien Duff's deflected cross, was so clinical and sharply taken that it stunned home supporters and the 3,000 visiting fans into silence.

Israel took until after the break to recover and Ireland should have pressed that advantage. "It can be a cruel game. At 1-0 it's never over, no matter what level you are at," said Roy Keane.

Israel wasted chances and Ireland appeared to have survived until the ball was laid back to substitute Abas Suan who struck it straight, and sweet, and beyond Given from 25 yards. There was time for Duff's deflected shot to clip the crossbar but Israel earned the point.

For Suan, one of two Arab-Israelis, it was a precious moment. "I dedicate this goal to the whole country," said the midfielder, who was barracked on his last appearance. Ireland would appreciate the sentiment. Even if it was to their cost.

* The plane carrying the Irish squad back to Dublin was delayed for two hours yesterday after Milo Corcoran, the President of the Football Association of Ireland, was taken ill. He was later transferred to the Assaf Harofeh Medical Centre and kept in overnight.

Israel (3-5-2): Awat (Racing Santander); Ben Haim (Bolton Wanderers), Benado (Maccabi Haifa), Gershon (Hapoel Tel Aviv); Afek (Salamanca), Tal, Badier ( both Maccabi Haifa), Benayoun (Racing Santander), Keisi (Hapoel Petah Tikva); Katan (Maccabi Haifa), Golan (Maccabi Petah Tikva). Substitutes used: Nimni (Beitar Jerusalem) for Afek, 65); Balili (Kaissarispor) for Tal, 65; Suan (Bnei Sakhnin) for Golan, 74.

Republic of Ireland (4-4-2): Given; Carr, O'Brien (all Newcastle United), Cunningham (Birmingham City), O'Shea (Manchester United); Finnan (Liverpool), Roy Keane (Manchester United), Kilbane (Everton), Duff (Chelsea); Morrison (Birmingham City), Robbie Keane (Tottenham Hotspur). Substitutes used: Holland (Charlton Athletic) for Morrison (85).

Referee: V Ivanov (Russia).

Man of the match: Kilbane.