In an arena brimful of raw passion and injured pride the Republic of Ireland found the belief - and the determination - to hold the Czech Republic last night and, in doing so, got their first point in this European Championship qualifying campaign. They also saved the job of their manager, Steve Staunton.
He would undoubtedly have been sacked, just six matches into his previously sorry reign, if there had been another soulless performance from a team that lost so wretchedly last weekend in Cyprus. Even much of that line-up was denied to Staunton. Injuries - and the suspension of Richard Dunne - meant he lacked 14 players.
In their stead young, untried men stepped up to the plate with four starting a competitive match for the first time. Men such as Brighton's goalkeeper, Wayne Henderson, the West Bromwich Albion defender Paul McShane and Leeds' midfielder Jonathon Douglas. In the end it was the Czechs, who came into this match with three wins, hanging on as Ireland, their players drained, still pushed on. They were dead on their feet. But not buried.
"Disappointed," was Staunton's verdict. But it was not the expected disappointment. Instead of a managerial career crashed and burned it was reprieved. "We should have had three points, we deserved three points. They gave everything."
Indeed they did. And it almost ended in glorious victory. Had Robbie Keane connected with Damien Duff's cross then Dublin would have erupted. There were other chances. The ball ran to Douglas inside the area, the goal opened up, but his low shot cannoned off Petr Cech's foot. Then John O'Shea reached Andy Reid's free-kick only for his header to skim over.
But there was also alarm. Jan Koller headed on a corner from the impressive, silky Tomas Rosicky and the ball fell to Milan Baros. His shot was not hit cleanly but he was only a couple of yards out. Somehow, Henderson scooped it away.
Back came Ireland. At half-time they were given a standing ovation. That erupted into delirium as Duff jinked to the byline and cut the ball across goal. Kevin Kilbane rushed into the area and slammed his shot high into the net. He was later withdrawn, with blurred vision, following a clash in the first-half. "Thankfully, he could still see the goal," Staunton said.
The celebrations were uncorked but the lead was short-lived. Just 90 seconds later Rosicky slipped a pass from a quick free-kick to Koller who rolled McShane and sent a low shot across Henderson. Ireland were winded. The worst was feared. But, instead, they came again. It was rousing stuff and the Czechs withdrew attackers for defenders as they held on for a point. "They were tigers," Staunton said of Douglas and Lee Carsley - recalled after being ignored - but it applied to his whole team.
Republic of Ireland (4-4-1-1): Henderson (Brighton); Finnan (Liverpool), O'Shea (Manchester United), McShane (West Brom), Kelly (Birmingham City); Duff (Newcastle United), Carsley (Everton), Douglas (Leeds United), Kilbane (Wigan Athletic); A Reid (Charlton Athletic); Keane (Tottenham Hotspur). Substitutes used: Quinn (Sheffield United) for Reid, 71; O'Brien (Newcastle United) for Kilbane, 79.
Czech Republic (4-1-3-2): Cech (Chelsea); Ujfalusi (Fiorentina), Jiranek (Spartak Moscow), Rozehnal (PSG), Jankulovski (Milan); Kovac (Spartak Moscow); Plasil (Hamburg), Rosicky (Arsenal), Polak (Nuremberg); Koller (Monaco) Baros (Aston Villa). Substitutes used: Jarolim (Hamburg) for Baros, 83; Grygera (Ajax) for Plasil, 85.
Referee: B Layec (France).Reuse content