"Regrets?" Robbie Keane was asked on Saturday night. It was that sort of occasion. The Republic of Ireland may have deservedly drawn with a Germany side booking its place in next summer's finals having continued to develop from last year's World Cup, but there was little sense of Irish celebration, no real conviction that this is how good they can be under the ferociously criticised management of Steve Staunton.
Instead the theme was once again about what the squad and the manager are not and that is, in a word, contenders.
Staunton's name may have been the correct response to the half-time quiz at Croke Park but as one wag said: "It's the first time he's been the answer." An audible proportion of the fans jeered the mention of Staunton's name.
No matter what might have been achieved against Germany, the date that really counts is from last October, not this. That was when an Irish side went to Nicosia and conceded five to Cyprus. "Everything that could go wrong did and it is probably what knocked us out of the competition," Richard Dunne said last week. Nicosia was a convulsion from which there has been no full recovery and the arrival of Cyprus in Dublin on Wednesday is a reminder that Staunton does not need.
Even though the Republic can still qualify, hope of doing so is so low that Keane said it is mathematically impossible. What the Irish captain and so many punters think is that they are involved in a three-way fight for third place with Cyprus and Slovakia. That is not good for Irish football's self-esteem or for Staunton's credibility.
The latter barely exists with some and despite having support within the Football Association of Ireland which has given Staunton a contract to 2010, the surprise will be if he is still in work once the last two fixtures have been played.
But there remains a chance that Staunton will stay. His cause was helped by this effort, particularly in the second half. Andy Reid in midfield and Joey O'Brien in defence did what was asked of them. If Cyprus were to be beaten and then Wales in Cardiff then Staunton could point to progress.
Germany have a squad capable of winning the competition. Torsten Frings was their key man on Saturday and Christoph Metzelder had a first-half header cleared off the line by Steve Finnan.
The Irish settled after that Metzelder flick and Keane should have scored when one-on-one with Jens Lehmann shortly after half-time. Keane thought he was offside and his lob was poor.
Lehmann just about demanded his Arsenal place back afterwards. But for Keane the topic was different. "Regrets?"
Republic of Ireland (4-4-2): Given (Newcastle United); Finnan (Liverpool), Dunne (Manchester City), O'Brien (Bolton Wanderers), Kelly (Birmingham); Keogh (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Reid (Charlton Athletic), Carsley (Everton), Kilbane (Wigan Athletic) (Murphy 90); Doyle (Reading) (Long 69) Keane (Tottenham Hotspur). Substitutes: McGeady (Celtic) for Keogh, 80; Murphy (Sunderland) for Kilbane, 90; Long (Reading) for Doyle, 69.
Germany (4-4-2): Lehmann (Arsenal); A Friedrich (Hertha Berlin), Metzelder (Borussia Dortmund), Mertesacker (Werder Bremen), Jansen (Borussia Mönchengladbach); Frings (Werder Bremen), Fritz (Werder Bremen), Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), Trochowski (Hamburg); Kuranyi (Schalke), Gomez (VfB Stuttgart) Substitutes: Podolski (Bayern Munich) for Gomez, 63; Castro (Bayer Leverkusen) for Trochowski, 90; Rolfes (Bayer Leverkusen) for Schweinsteiger, 19.
Referee: M Hansson (Sweden).Reuse content