Martin O’Neill said the historic win over Germany sapped some of Ireland’s “intensity” for the 2-1 defeat to Poland last night — but criticised Robert Lewandowski and his side for their willingness to go down and stop the game.
The Irish manager also claimed it is “unfair” that suspensions are carried through to the play-offs, with John O’Shea and Jon Walters now set to miss Ireland’s first leg after their respective red card and booking.
O’Shea’s second booking for a foul on Lewandowski came at the end of a game in which Ireland looked much leggier than in the 1-0 win over Germany, although O’Neill lamented the fact that they could still have gone to Euro 2016 instead of Poland had Richard Keogh’s late header gone in.
“The Germany game gave us the opportunity tonight obviously to try and get a scoring draw or more, a win,” O’Neill said.
“We didn’t have the same intensity and that’s pretty natural really after a short turnaround, away from home, and maybe the brilliant victory gave us a lift, gave us the determination but just a little bit of intensity in the game was lost, particularly in the first half.
“It was hard to replicate that effort a couple of days later, away, against a very fine Polish side.”
He had some criticism for Poland’s willingness to go down - and a hint of a back-handed compliment when asked about Lewandowski, as O’Neill seemed to reference his diving.
“Poland a very fine side went down, but went down at every opportunity, as you would expect. It was very stop-start.
“[Lewandowski] is world-class player, and he knows the game.
“He’s very very good. I mentioned here yesterday. [Leo] Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo, he is in another group of absolutely top-class players.
“Great control, and he knows the game.
“He knows when to control the game, and went to stop it. Poland should be very happy with him.
O’Neill did have some blame for O’Shea, saying he should have used more of his “experience” to avoid a second booking, and said that the suspension rules need looking — especially since some teams play more games, with one qualification group only having five teams.
“I didn’t think that the Polish players were going anywhere at the time,” O’Neill said.
“John could have used a bit of experience there if that was the case.
“Walters, Lewandowski’s played for the foul. He’s not only played for the foul, he’s gone down rather theatrically. I thought Jon was looking to get out of the way. That’s my take on it.
“So we lose those players. It seems crazy.
“I think it’s worth mentioning, very difficult to go 10 games without picking up suspensions.
“It seems unfair to carry it through to play-offs. One of the groups has only eight games.
“I think it’s something Uefa should have a look at.
O’Neill admitted Richard Keogh’s late headed chance was the key opportunity on a disappointing night.
The Derby County defender was on the end of Ireland’s sole clearcut chnce to nick a 2-2 draw in the second half, only for his close-range header to be saved by Lukasz Fabianski.
O’Neill said: “I’ve seen it back and and I’m naturally disappointed because I thought Richard probably would have scored and it is disappointing.
“We knew that at some stage or another, particularly in the last 15 minutes, that we would get an opportunity to score a goal.
“Richard heads the ball into the net, seven minutes left and we’re going to France. It’s that close.”
“That was it. We didn’t take it. It’s gone but we live to fight another day.”
O’Neill asserted his team would be prepared for a play-off.
“Some people saw it as a free hit. I never saw it like that.
“I wanted to cement our place there.
“We have two games to go, and the players will be ready.”
O’Neill added: “May I just take this opportunity to congratulate Poland on qualification.
“We’d like to be in that position, and join them in a month’s time if that’s possible.”
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