The final twist?

Ireland 1 Switzerland 2

Victory flattered Switzerland but not to the extent that their win came as a major shock. While Ireland enjoyed more of the play and dominated the second half they found that good organisation, excellent technique and a capacity to make the most of their scoring chances served the Swiss well.

They were confined to their own penalty area for long periods after half-time but they defended with such efficiency and such confidence that goalkeeper Stiel was rarely threatened. So Mick McCarthy's remarkable record of never having presided over a losing Irish team in a competitive match at Lansdowne was wrecked. Ireland's long unbeaten run stretched back over 18 matches in total, 17 of them in McCarthy's reign.

Switzerland's win - courtesy of a killer goal three minutes before full-time as Ireland desperately sought a winner - provided the boo boys with the ammunition they sought to criticise Ireland and the manager at the full-time whistle.

Minutes earlier they had chanted "Keano, Keano" in an obvious reference to the Manchester United captain but those chants were quickly drowned by a louder chant for Ireland. Inevitably there was another ripple of protest as the manager left the pitch.

But McCarthy was philosophical afterwards. "I have a thick-skin and a brass neck" he said, "and I am going to see this out.

"I accept I will be criticised because this business is results-driven and we have just lost our first two matches in the European Championship. To qualify now by winning the group we must win our remaining six matches to give us 18 points although we could probably go through in a play-off if we accumulate 16 points."

Just where those points are going to come from was not immediately obvious. Ireland played with predictable energy and commitment but they were un-done by a team that had an effective game plan and executed it admirably They were encouraged by Ireland's inability to capitalise upon their early work for they took inspiration from the fervent and exciting atmosphere generated by a capacity attendance to hustle Switzerland deep into their own half for the opening 20 minutes.

Yet Ireland played with more emotion than calculation and overall their first half performance was a ragged patchwork quilt of errors, shredded by careless distribution from defence, by a lack of pattern to their approach play and an erratic service to strikers Robbie Keane and Damien Duff.

Keane did not help his own cause by attempting too much on the ball, his eagerness to turn every pass into a scoring attempt meant his work was predictable.

The Swiss sat tightly on the Irish strike force, denying them the space and time they needed to get the ball under control and Ireland, in contrast, were much looser. Midfielder Vogel found wide open spaces in midfield to orchestrate Switzerland's performance and Cabanas, on the right flank, was equally influential. They achieved a balance in their play that owed much to the width provided by Cabanas on the right and Wicky on the left and to the accurate passing of Vogel and Hakan Yakin in central midfield.

In consequence, their opening goal came as no surprise for they were always threatening against an Irish defence regularly caught square and stretched by the width in Switzerland's play.

The goal came on the call of half-time, Murat Yakin knocking the ball from half-way to his brother Hakan Yakin who lobbed Given from six yards with Ireland in disarray.

Predictably Ireland were much more driven in the second half, their teamwork more concentrated and intense and the Swiss were forced deeper and deeper into defence. The supply to the Irish strikers was improved by Duff's withdrawal and with Colin Healy operating to good effect on the opposite flank, Ireland maintained a push that had to yield dividends. Yet the Swiss were outstanding in their defiance, the formidable Murat Yakin was an inspirational force for them in the heart of the penalty area.

Ireland had to expend so much energy in producing the equalising goal that their football was fragmented with a touch of desperation long before the final quarter. And as subsequent events showed, they had few ideas and little imagination with which to further upset the Swiss after their 77th minute goal.

It was significant that the goal should come from a Swiss defender for Ireland seemed utterly incapable of creating a worthwhile scoring chance. Even Duff's influence was gradually countered as Cabanas dropped deep to support full-back Haas.

Duff was harshly treated, of course, and earned at least six free kicks. The buffeting he received eventually forced him off in the 81st minute and one sensed Ireland had reached the modest pinnacle of their efforts on this disappointing night with the equalising goal.

Harte's free from the left helped produce it for left-back Magnin was under enormous pressure from Breen when he deflected the ball past his own goalkeeper from just a yard out.

In total contrast to the huge effort expended by Ireland in forcing such a scrappy goal was Switzerland's neat break out of defence in the 87th minute that saw the clever Chapuisat wheel away from Breen's attempted tackle before clipping the ball through for substitute Celestine to beat the unprotected Given from six yards.

So a night that had begun memorably with a glorious welcome to Ireland on their first home appearance since the highlights of the World Cup ended in disappointment.

Their shortcomings were all too obviously exposed by a well-balanced and shrewd Swiss team whose economical team work highlighted the uneven work of an Irish side always struggling to hit an even tempo.

Referee: R. Pedersen (Norway).

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