Long gives Ireland perfect send-off

Republic of Ireland 1 Bosnia-Herzegovina 0: Trapattoni's makeshift team show encouraging signs for Euro 2012

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Giovanni Trapattoni has cast doubt on Shay Given and John O'Shea appearing in the Republic of Ireland's opening Euro 2012 game against Croatia. The goalkeeper has a knee injury and O'Shea an ankle problem and the manager said both players will have rigorous fitness tests during the week. "When we have the next training session they must show us they are ready," said Trapattoni. Keith Fahey has been forced to withdraw from the tournament with a groin injury, the Birmingham midfielder being replaced by Derby's Paul Green.

Ireland had a good send-off yesterday. Great weather, fine result, good atmosphere and an acceptable performance. The game oscillated between moments of abrasive energy and downright dullness but Shane Long's winning goal will have built confidence. Trapattoni was never going to deviate from his system too much in a fixture so close to the European Championship and, duly, the game quickly settled into a familiar pattern. Ireland played the ball about within the framework of the Italian's rigid 4-4-2 before looking to gain openings through long balls or isolated interchanges on the edge of the box.

Ireland are unlikely to energise too many games in Euro 2012. They have an approach. They stick to it. It makes them hard to beat. There were, however, a few notable differences in this friendly. For one, there's James McClean. Trapattoni only belatedly bowed to pressure to call up the 2011-12 season's breakthrough star in February and, once he brought the Sunderland winger on in a recent friendly against the Czech Republic, the manager expressed odd surprise at the crowd's hugely enthusiastic reaction.

While McClean is certainly not Leo Messi, as Trapattoni wondered when he heard the cheers, the supporters' excitement is understandable. His direct style forces the kind of opportunities Ireland would not otherwise manufacture. On more than one occasion on his first international start, the Bosnian defenders could only bring him down, unceremoniously.

He forced the free-kick which brought Ireland's best chance before the goal when, just after half-time, Kevin Doyle nodded down for substitute Aiden McGeady to hit the post. In central midfield, Darron Gibson was given the opportunity to impress ahead of Keith Andrews, even though the two linked up well later on.

Glenn Whelan provided the best pass of the match. Just before half-time, he found Robbie Keane in the box, who expertly flicked a ball inside for Damien Duff to bring a fine save by Asmir Begovic. There was, however, a slight scare just before that, when Keane received a blow to the ribs and looked to be in considerable pain. It was injury concerns that meant Ireland's backline was relatively unfamiliar yesterday as Keiren Westwood came in for Given, Darren O'Dea started instead of Sean St Ledger and, most surprisingly of all, Paul McShane replaced O'Shea at right-back as Trapattoni selected a player who is not even among the 23-man Euro 2012 squad ahead of a confirmed member in Stephen Kelly.

For his part, McShane played exactly like he was trying to force his way into the team as he raided up the right more than a few times. On one occasion before half-time, it allowed Duff to cut inside and shoot narrowly wide. But, on the whole, Ireland's defence looked exactly what it was: patched together. Only a few timely touches and tackles from Richard Dunne prevented Bosnia-Herzegovina going ahead.

A 0-0 draw looked a hugely safe bet until, with so many substitutions, the game started to really open up on 70 minutes. With Ireland's improvised midfield actually coming together quite well, they started to produce some promising football.

McGeady was a significant factor in that. When he has freedom, the Spartak Moscow winger can look exceptional and that was certainly the case here. McGeady first crossed for Jon Walters to head against the bar and then, eventually, for Long to hit the winner.

"I think we played very well in terms of attitude, mentality and performance. I say it's a good start for the week ahead," said Trapattoni.

Five things we have learned

1. It's impossible to second-guess Trapattoni

Yesterday, a full-back who isn't in the 23-man squad – Paul McShane – got in ahead of a Premier League right-back, Stephen Kelly. Even when Trapattoni has set parameters, he can make some surprising decisions.

2. Defence remains completely dependent on Richard Dunne

The backline may have been patched together yesterday but Ireland's entire system still depends on Dunne's durability. Several key blocks illustrated he is irreplaceable.

3. McClean isn't just suited to this level... he may make a difference

While Trapattoni's defensive demands often constrain a truly technical player like Aiden McGeady, they don't affect McClean given his energy. He may just be perfectly suited to it.

4. Darron Gibson gives Trapattoni options in midfield

The Everton midfielder's range of passing altered the usual shape and direction of Ireland's otherwiseone-dimensional midfield.

5. Shane Long is putting Kevin Doyle's place under threat

After a disappointing season with Wolves, Doyle isn't exactly looking his sharpest for Ireland. His only two goals in the last two years have been against Andorra. Long's winner was a sign of how much he canoffer instead.

Miguel Delaney

Republic of Ireland (4-4-2): Westwood; McShane (Kelly, 78), Dunne (St Ledger 70), O'Dea, Ward; Duff (McGeady, 45), Gibson, Whelan (Andews, h-t), McClean; Keane (Long, 62), Doyle (Walters, 62)

Bosnia-Herzegovina (4-2-3-1): Begovic; Mujdza (Zahirovic, 55), Pandza, Jahic, Medunjanin (Vrancic, 45); Rahimic (Stevanovic, 45), Ibisevic (Vranjes, 70); Pjanic, Misimovic, Lulic; Dzeko

Referee Nikolaj Haenni (Switzerland).

Man of the match Dunne (Republic of Ireland).

Match rating 5/10.

Comments