Serbia 0 Republic of Ireland 0
The Republic of Ireland conjured an admirable performance against Serbia to consign to the past their harrowing Euro 2012 campaign.
The match at the Red Star Stadium in Belgrade may only have been a friendly, but it was crucial Giovanni Trapattoni’s side emerged with creditability after a summer to forget, and they did exactly that.
Chances were sparse in a game that lacked sparkle overall, but at least Kieren Westwood proved himself as Shay Given’s replacement for the long term with one stunning save late on to guarantee a deserved draw.
For Trapattoni, the starting line-up on show tonight was very different to the one that took to the field in the final group game against Italy in Euro 2012.
The only survivors from a 2-0 defeat were John O’Shea, serving as captain for the first time, Aiden McGeady and Glenn Whelan.
Of those absent, goalkeeper Given announced his retirement from international football on Monday, while Robbie Keane and Damien Duff were given permission to miss this game.
Of the others, Richard Dunne, Sean St Ledger, Stephen Ward and Kevin Doyle all have injuries and Keith Andrews was omitted given his pending suspension for the opening World Cup qualifier in Kazakhstan on September 7 after being dismissed against Italy.
It meant there was at least a degree of freshness to what was a relatively experimental line-up, in particular as Trapattoni at least kept to his word and changed the formation.
Trapattoni, who had rigidly adhered to a 4-4-2 during Euro 2012, adopted a 4-1-4-1 format, with Whelan sitting in between defence and midfield, and Stoke team-mate Jon Walters serving as the lone frontman.
For the opening 45 minutes Ireland looked more solid and compact than at any time in Poland where they were often cruelly exposed, albeit the calibre of opposition was considerably higher.
But they at least frustrated Serbia whose attempt to work their way in behind the Irish defence often floundered.
Instead, the home side’s best opportunities came the way of Manchester City defender Aleksandar Kolarov from distance, both within a minute of one another.
The first from around 20 yards was dragged slightly wide, whilst the second from a further five yards away took a deflection en route.
With big shoes to fill in light of Given’s departure, Sunderland goalkeeper Westwood adjusted himself well as he made a smart save low to his right.
As for Ireland, there was a Walters drive deflected wide, whilst the industrious Whelan suffered a similar fate later in the half.
From the corner, however, the ball eventually fell Whelan’s way, resulting in a driven half-volley from 20 yards that goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic grabbed at the second attempt after initially clawing the effort out of the air.
For once Stojkovic, previously booed and whistled every time he had touched the ball given he plays for local rivals Partizan, was given some credit by the predominantly pro-Red Star crowd.
After the restart, and following a 26-yard free-kick from Kolarov lifted narrowly over the crossbar in the 51st minute, it was the Republic who went on to conjure two of the game’s better chances.
Initially, in the 56th minute, McGeady produced a jinking run in midfield to create some space for himself before laying a ball out wide to James McClean.
Following a surging run down the left flank the Sunderland winger delivered a low ball into the area that was flicked only a yard wide by Walters.
Soon after Ireland again strode forward purposefully, sparked by a fine challenge in midfield by Wigan’s James McCarthy.
It resulted in a pass into the path of McGeady who, at the second attempt, brought a clutch stop out of Stojkovic after his first effort was blocked.
The save of the game, though, belonged to Westwood in the 71st minute who proved himself superbly with a full-stretch effort away to his left in turning aside a low 20-yard free-kick from Zdravko Kuzmanovic.
As to be expected with any pre-season friendly, a raft of substitutions unfolded throughout the second half.
The most notable of those saw West Ham’s Joey O’Brien on for the final 11 minutes to win his first cap for five years having suffered a catalogue of injuries in the intervening period.