IF you didn’t see the game, allow us to present a quick synopsis. South Africa enjoyed well over two-thirds of the possession, had umpteen more shots on goal than Ireland and our lads won 1-0.
In other words, Nicosia: Part II.
As a recipe for success, it doesn’t exactly read well on the page but, hey, if it ain’t broke…
This wasn’t so much a friendly at times as much as a game of backs and forwards and it was the boys in green doing the chasing, just like they had for vast swathes of the evening in Cyprus last weekend.
After 10 minutes, the visitors had already enjoyed two-thirds of the ball and the home fans were reduced to cheering on the rare occasions when Ireland managed to string more than one pass together.
Yes, it was that bad, particularly in the first half, although Ireland redressed the deficit somewhat after the interval when Trapattoni clearly ordered his lads to put themselves about a tad more.
As we know all too well, none of this is anything new to natives of these islands, isolated in Europe’s north-west corner as we are by our own technical deficiencies as much as geography.
A similar script played itself out in Hampden Park last Saturday. On this occasion, it was Scotland chasing their tails and Macedonia – our old chums – inflicting the pain. The result? Two-nil to the Scots. As our American cousins would say, go figure.
The only thing more inexplicable last night was the referee’s failure to award a penalty to the hosts after Caleb Folan was pole-axed by what can only be described as an industrial Morgan Gould tackle after 13 minutes.
The Hull City striker required four stitches after that little intervention but it was a foul on the self same Folan that allowed Liam Lawrence curl in Ireland’s winner from a free nine minutes before the break.
This was rough justice on the Bafana Bafana who were looking to avoid a sixth straight defeat, not to mention their supporters who lent an otherwise lame duck of an evening a carnival atmosphere. Let’s hope more Irish fans get the chance to mingle with them when the World Cup takes place. If they do, it’s hard to see many starters – Doyle, Andrews and Folan aside – playing a major role. In fairness, it was a starting 11 with less than 100 caps between them. South Africa’s captain Aaron Mokoena could almost match that number by himself.
But it wasn’t exactly a collection of wet-eared rookies either. Stephen Kelly, Paul McShane and Andy Keogh have all progressed into the double digits in terms of caps earned and all three were looking to redeem themselves.
Keogh has enjoyed a solid start to the season in the Premier League with Wolves but here again he was stationed out on the wing rather than up the middle and that seems to be where he will continue to feature, intermittently, under Trapattoni.
Neither Kelly nor McShane repeated any of the lapses that saw them slip down the pecking order in the last year or so but it says something about both that the absence of any howlers should need to be noted in the first place.
It’s a pity, for them and the management, because Ireland are stretched for dependable full-backs right now and Eddie Nolan will have known that as he slipped on his country’s jersey for only the third time in Limerick.
If any one player had more to gain than another last night it appeared to be the Preston North End player, what with Kevin Kilbane’s alarming rate of decline after 12 admirable years service to the cause.
Unfortunately, Nolan looked nervous in the early exchanges with the ball at his feet and South Africa profited enormously advancing down his flank despite Keogh’s willingness to dig in.
Ireland’s real profit was made up front where Folan again proved there is life beyond Messers Keane and Doyle while Leon Best and Lawrence will also head back to England secure in the knowledge they have moved a rung or two up Trap’s ladder.
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