Centurion O’Shea to the rescue

EURO 2016 Group D Qualifier

Centurion O’Shea to the rescue

Point made, point taken – and how.

This was a Ruhr awakening for Germany in Glesenkirchen as Ireland staged one of the great smash and grab recoveries in their football history to take a point off the world champions in impossibly dramatic circumstances in the Veltins Arena.

For the first time in a long time, “you’ll never beat the Irish” rang out on foreign fields as the travelling support in an otherwise stunned crowd of 50,000 celebrated a goal in the last minute of injury-time which brought the German players to their knees, the Irish bench to its feet — and one hugely precious away point on the road to France 2016.

There might have been some doubt as to whether this really was John O’Shea’s 100th cap or not but, no matter, he most definitely made it a night to remember with a decisive intervention in the final minute of time added on.

On as a late substitute, Wes Hoolahan, controversially omitted from the starting line-up again, floated a ball to the far side of the box where another sub, Jeff Hendrick, cleverly first-timed it back across the face of goal. And there, with the reactions of a Robbie Keane in his prime, was the veteran O’ Shea, getting across Matt Hummels to turn the ball past Manuel Neuer to the corner of the net.

Cue green bedlam and sheer German disbelief.

However the truth is that the world champions, for their part, never lived up to billing, stymied by their own largely toothless finishing and a resolute Irish defensive performance that was breached only once, when Tony Kroos got what appeared to be the winning goal in the 71st minute.

But a certain ton-up man would still insist on having the final say.

As a reminder to the visiting Irish fans that they had arrived in the land of football giants, the electronic hoardings around Schalke’s home ground repeatedly flashed up the years 1954, 1974, 1990 and 2014 before kick off, while the local supporters spelled out a huge ‘Danke’ in the stands.

But what followed was definitely not the four-star performance worthy of four times world champions. Instead the story of the night was all about an Irish team which, while rarely playing football to please the purist, kept on going right to the delirious end.

Neither side was at full strength last night but, when it comes to comparing and contrasting the respective weaknesses of Germany and Ireland, all things are relative.

Injury, illness and retirement might have meant that Joachim Low could only call on six of the players who saw action, either as starters or from the bench, on that magical night in the Maracana just four months ago but, even denuded to that extent – and despite also having had their invincibility punctured in Warsaw at the weekend – his was still a squad and a team drawn from some of the biggest clubs in the Bundesliga and Europe. And still, of course, the champions of the world.

By contrast, the loss of Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy was not something Martin O’Neill could ever hope to take in his stride, and he will certainly be keeping his fingers crossed that they will be available again for the trip to Glasgow next month. But the manager also saw an opportunity last night to try and exploit the inexperience of full-backs Antonio Rudiger of Stuttgart and Erik Durm of Dortmund – just seven caps between them – as Germany continue to experiment with ways to fill that Philipp Lahm-shaped hole in the nationalmannschaft.

So, boldly, O’Neill went for a ‘Mc attack’, with Aiden McGeady and James McClean both in the starting line-up, albeit Jon Walters was deployed wide right – as he was in Georgia — allowing McGeady a roving role across the width of the pitch behind Robbie Keane. But there was still no place on an away day at the start for Wes Hoolahan which gave legitimate grounds to worry that Ireland would struggle from the off to establish a midfield foothold in the game and set-up effective supply lines to the flanks and forward positions.

S o it proved in a first half notable for Germany’s almost complete ownership of the ball but also for a level of Irish defensive discipline and concentration which meant the home side were repeatedly frustrated in their efforts to turn their superiority into goals.

Indeed, the closest they came was when the game was just five minutes old. Rising star Karim Bellarabi, gaining only his second cap, had already torn into the heart of the Irish defence with a brilliant run and when the ball was finally cleared, but only as far as Durm, the left full returned it with a shot from 30 yards which fairly thundered against the crossbar.

Eight minutes later, when Rudiger failed to capitalise with a free header from a training ground free kick routine, you had the sense that while it would definitely be a long night for Ireland, it might also take Germany some time to fashion the breakthrough

Certainly, they were playing all the football, their mobility, touch and tactical fluency weaving pretty patterns which always threatened yet never delivered. By contrast Ireland, in the absence of Hoolahan, were unable to make anything of what little possession came their way, McGeady’s roving role providing negligible support for the often isolated Robbie Keane.

An all action James McClean was up for it though, having a nibble at Tony Kroos before Glenn Whelan picked up a yellow for another heavy tackle on the Real Madrid man. But even after a rare moment of Irish quality – McClean nutmegging Rudiger on the touchline – the Derryman then completely overhit the cross.

Yet while, Manuel Neuer was about as engaged in the German goal as David Forde had been against Gibraltar, it wasn’t until the very last act of the first half that the Millwall man was required to make a big save, denying Julian Draxler at his near post.

In a bid to sharpen Germany’s blunt cutting edge, Low sent Lucas Podolski into the fray at the start of the second half. And soon O’Neill had to make an enforced change, Jeff Hendrick coming on for the injured Glenn Whelan.

Suddenly, Forde was now a busy man, tipping over a Kroos effort in the 54th minute as German pressure intensified and the Irish goal began to live on the edge.

But with the game becoming more stretched, and error and fatigue beginning to creep, Ireland were also seeing just a bit more of the ball in the opposition half. On the hour mark, however, O’Neill made a cautious move, replacing Robbie Keane with Darron Gibson, as Jon Walters took over the thankless loan frontman role.

And still the clock ticked and still the Germans searched in vain for the breakthrough, as the home crowd grew increasingly restless. And then, with twenty minutes remaining, the yearned for goal finally arrived, Tony Kroos’ shot from outside the box beating the full-length dive of Forde and going in off the post.

Irish resistance had been broken but not Irish spirit. There was still time for Hoolahan to come off the bench and come close to scoring himself, his close-range effort denied by a terrific block by Durm.

And there was just enough time left for Hoolahan to combine with Hendrick to set up O’Shea for that incredible final act.

As the former friend of the Irish assistant manager might say: football, bloody hell.

Subs for Germany: Podolski for Ginter 45, Kruse for Draxler 70,

Subs for Republic of Ireland: Hendrick for Whelan 54, Gibson for Keane 63, Hoolahan for Quinn 76.

Referee: Damir Skomina (SVN).

Three things we learned last night

Miguel Delaney

This was a game to resuscitate the old spirit

It may have been a somewhat fortunate last-minute goal, but the more encouraging aspect that this was the first time we’ve seen something like this in quite a while — arguably since the 2010 World Cup qualifiers, when Ireland initially showed such durability under Giovanni Trapattoni. Then, they came back to score such a late equaliser away to Italy, who were also world champions. Here, it was a similar story. The hope is that it restores an old spirit to the team, which we haven’t seen enough of in recent years.

Germany do suddenly have genuine issues — and not just in this game

In attack, the world champions repeatedly ran out of ideas. In defence, they often didn’t have a clue and looked hopelessly suspect. It is a hugely curious issue for the team that otherwise look so obviously sure of themselves. You could have described their display, however, as sterile domination. That was an accusation occasionally levelled at Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, but the Germans do seem to suffer from that classic problems of an overload of midfielders at the expense of everything else. They are exceptional at absolutely everything expect what obviously makes the difference at both ends.

Glenn Whelan is essential to the side’s defensive shape

It was no coincidence that, as soon as Whelan went off, Ireland endured their worst period of the game, and Martin O’Neill was thrown into something of a panic regarding his substitutions. Jeff Hendrick was brought on only to be shifted about, and it probably cost Shane Long his place on the pitch. Whelan’s place has often been questioned but those within the side are well aware of his value. He offers essential organisation. Would that space Toni Kroos enjoyed for his goal have been quite so open had Whelan been on the pitch?

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