Ireland left squirming in the shade

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The Independent Online
Liechtenstein 0

Republic of Ireland 0

Even the lowest of European football's lesser lights can have their day to shine, as Jack Charlton's Republic of Ireland discovered to their cost in this tiny Alpine principality on Saturday.

This European Championship qualifying campaign is Liechtenstein's first adventure in competitive international football. Prior to Saturday's events at the splendidly picturesque Sportpark Eschen/Mauren, a humble stadium dwarfed by forbidding snow-capped peaks, they had been beaten every time. Even Latvia won here, last September, since when Liechtenstein have been beaten 8-0 in Portugal and 7-0 across the border in Austria.

With that sort of record to live up to, the home players, all but one of whom are amateurs, can be forgiven for their joyous celebrations after the final whistle. They took a bow before all four sides of the ground, and received their best reception from the always good-natured travelling Irish support, who applauded them all the way round their lap of honour.

The star of the show was Daniel Hasler, a 21-year-old sweeper from FC Vaduz. His pace and reading of the game snuffed out countless attacks by the Irish, and he was responsible for the most spectacular of several goal-line clearances in a frantic second half. Behind him, the goalkeeper Martin Heeb was another home hero as he dived around his area to keep a brave clean sheet.

For all their pressure, the Irish created distressingly few clear chances. Steve Staunton and Jason McAteer reached the byline frequently, but their crosses were poor while, in the middle, John Sheridan played too deep and Ronnie Whelan was just too slow.

Niall Quinn and John Aldridge were off-form up front, Tony Cascarino looked more lively when he replaced Quinn but he missed the best two chances of the afternoon: he shot wide from close range right in front of goal and then he directed a point-blank header straight at the goalkeeper.

The dead-ball specialists could do no better, Denis Irwin wasted two direct free-kicks in the closing stages of each half and, in injury time, a Staunton free-kick whistled just wide.

"What can you say? That result has done enormous damage," Charlton complained. "It will take a long time to get over it. We have dropped points here where no one else will."

Despite their manager's pessimism, the Republic should still qualify from what is one of the weaker sections. The new group leaders, Portugal, are not looking too confident, either: they nearly threw away a three- goal half-time lead in Saturday's 3-2 win over Latvia in Porto. For both countries, the road to England and Euro '96 is a rocky one.

LIECHTENSTEIN (1-2-5-2): Heeb (Schaan); Hasler (Vaduz); Hanselmann (Balzers), J Ospelt (Vaduz); Ritter (Vaduz), H Zech (Vaduz), Hilti (Eschen/Mauren), Telser (Balzers), W Ospelt (Vaduz); Frick (St Gallen), Burgmaier (Eschen/Mauren). Substitutes: J Zech (Eschen/Mauren) for J Ospelt, 31; Marxer (Eschen/Mauren) for W Ospelt, 59.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (4-4-2): A Kelly (Sheffield United); G Kelly (Leeds United), Babb (Liverpool), McGrath (Aston Villa), Irwin (Manchester United); McAteer (Bolton Wanderers), Whelan (Southend United), Sheridan (Sheffield Wednesday), Staunton (Aston Villa); Aldridge (Tranmere Rovers), Quinn (Manchester City). Substitutes: Cascarino (Marseille) for Quinn, 59; Kenna (Blackburn Rovers) for McAteer, 72.

Referee: C Agius (Malta).