Spain 2 Rep of Ireland 0
Normally the huge state-of-the-art screen looming over the centre field boundary at Yankee Stadium is an inviting target for baseball players who step up to the batter’s box.
For Stephen Kelly, however, it was a sight that filled him with dread.
Much too early in Spain’s friendly victory over the Republic of Ireland on Tuesday evening, the Irish left back glanced up at the scoreboard and shuddered.
“You’re looking at the clock and thinking ‘God, it’s going to be a long night’,” admitted Kelly after a 2-0 defeat which every player who spoke to the media accepted with the same level of positivity.
He can even look back with pride at the fact that he was handed the captain’s armband after Robbie Keane was withdrawn with about a half an hour to go.
“Yeah it was great but I was a little disappointed because I nearly got my first goal. It was a great save from Casillas. I was peeling off thinking that might have gone in but it hit the crossbar and came out and for Sean’s to be disallowed, it was very disappointing. I think 1-1 it would have been a great game and then James’ effort, it was a great effort, it was a good ball up the corner and he set it up great. That could have changed the game.
“It was difficult but it was a great night, a great game to play in. At the end of your career. you’re going to look back and remember nights like this, playing at the Yankee Stadium. You don’t often get (many) opportunities like this.”
Kelly, who spent the first half near where the home plate and the pitching mound would normally be, was a crucial component of Giovanni Trapattoni’s tactics.
“The game plan for us,” explained the defender, “was to push them out wide if we could and not let them through the middle because they’re always looking for that slide ball in between the full-backs and the centre-backs. A couple of times it happened but there was always pressure on the ball or the goalkeeper was coming out. At times we dropped back to the edge of our 18-yard box… We’re disappointed with the goals we conceded but overall it wasn’t a bad performance.”
His manager agreed and added it was a huge leap forward from the 4-0 Euro 2012 defeat in Gdansk.
“Yes I think we have grown,” said Trapattoni. “Obviously we played against the world champions. Technically they were superior, we knew this before the game but we had a good opportunity with this (disallowed) goal and with (the first half) counter-attack (involving) Sammon and Keane.”
The Italian was satisfied with the experience gleaned from the occasion by his young midfielders Jeff Hendrick, James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman while he also joined Keane in praising substitute Stephen Quinn, who came on for Hendrick at half-time.
“He did very well,” said Keane. “He kept the ball. The game opened up a small bit for us. Stephen was the orchestrator. He was getting the ball down and playing it.
“But in terms of Jeff, he was doing the same as everyone else running around trying to help everyone. It was certainly a tough night but a lot of positives to take out of it.”
Keane’s strike partner Sammon described the game as an “unbelievable test”.
“You get to watch them on the TV and now you realise how good they are when you are on the pitch with them,” he said.
“The quality and depth of talent that they have is frightening. It was a great opportunity for us and I think we acquitted ourselves well.
“They do that to most teams, keeping possession and moving it well. But we defended and kept them at bay and leaving them hitting long strikes from outside the box.
“Then I had a great chance in the first half when I closed down a long ball. I got in goal but just did not get my foot around the ball. They were the kind of moments that we were living for and waiting for in the game… But, overall, I felt that we played well.”
Trapattoni will regather his squad in August for the September qualifiers full of optimism about the task ahead.
“We played three very positive games, Georgia, England and the Faroes… I hope we start again in August with this trust… because this game this evening can give us more confidence.”
SPAIN: Valdes (Casillas 58), Pique, Sergio Ramos, Arbeloa, Jordi Alba, Iniesta (Fabregas 59), Xavi (Mata 69), Busquets, Silva (Jesus Navas 46), Pedro (Cazorla 80), Villa (Soldado 59).
REP OF IRELAND: Forde (Randolph 73), St Ledger, Coleman, Kelly (Delaney 90), O’Dea, McShane, McCarthy, Hendrick (Quinn 46), Sammon, Keane (Cox 57), Andy Keogh (McClean 74).
Attendance: 39,368 Referee: Jair Marrufo (USA).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved
More in this section