A night to rival any in Irish history, and a piece of managerial work to rival any in all of the Euro 2016 qualifiers.
Of course, occasions like this are so special that it almost seems to dampen the joyous emotion to discuss the specifics of the tactics and all of that, but it should only add to the celebration here. Martin O’Neill deserves real credit.
Debate will go on whether this is Ireland’s greatest ever result, but it’s certainly difficult to think of a match when they pulled off a result with so much going against them.
Consider the stakes, and how improbable this was: Ireland hadn’t beaten anyone of note in a competitive match since 2001, and this game against the world champions came with five Championship players in the team.
Germany had scored in 40 of the last 41 qualifiers, and Ireland had to watch their legendary goalkeeper go off before half-time.
None of it mattered because O’Neill had put his mind to it all.
Of course, the identity of the goalscorer raises the question as to why O’Neill started Daryl Murphy over Shane Long, but you could even argue that was the correct call given it might have riled the Southampton forward into a glorious finish like that.
— Irish Examiner (@irishexaminer) October 8, 2015
This was a night when everything fell right for Ireland, right down to Thomas Muller missing a 79th effort when he should have scored, and when O’Neill got everything right.
In that, the Irish boss could go one better than Giovanni Trapattoni by qualifying directly without a play-off, and went one better than the Italian here by how he set up against the defending world champions. He pulled off the perfect plan.
Back in Euro 2012, Trapattoni got it very wrong against Spain by playing such an open Irish team, despite the fact that the previous two years had proven that the only way to play against a team so far above everyone else was to sit deep, close and wait for your moment.
This point isn’t raised to down Trapattoni, but to emphasise how you’re supposed to play against sides that are so good. Germany have succeeded Spain as by far the best in the world, with a technical level beyond anyone else, and their recent games have illustrated the same thing.
To stop them, you have to be prepared to sit and stifle.
It might involve a lot of pain, and a lot of nervous moments, but it requires that persistence and resilience.
O’Neill instilled all of that in his team.
Other than two moments in the opening eight minutes when Jerome Boateng was allowed a free header and the backline was surprisingly slack with the offside line, Ireland did not give an inch.
They applied themselves to the maximum, which is all you can really expect against sides this excellent, but what was more admirable was that they later went beyond that. They began to grow in confidence and take Germany on. You could see that in some of the more assured passes played by James McCarthy and Wes Hoolahan — a superb duo tonight — in the minutes before the goal.
The platform for that was set by the way they ground Germany down, frustrated them with sheer ferocity. Almost every Irish outfield player was responsible for at least one big block, one determined tackle, one contribution of sheer defiance.
In the first half, there was Richard Keogh diverting a divine German ball wide, John O’Shea deflecting a clear Ilkay Gundgan shot, Murphy powering away an opposition corner.
It was followed in the second by Cyrus Christie getting beyond Andre Schurrle to clear, McCarthy tracking excellently to extinguish another German attack, Robbie Brady sliding in to sweep another dangerous cross.
Ireland kept their discipline exceptionally. O’Neill deserves huge credit for that. That’s what he gave to the team.
Once you do that against a team like Germany, it comes down to taking any chance that comes your way, playing on the luck you’re trying to create.
That, again, is what happened.
The goal might have been as reductive as route one but that almost makes it all the more admirable, but that almost makes it all the more admirable because of the way it fits the blueprint, because of how even sides as good as Germany can still struggle under something like that.
— Shaun Cronin (@ShaunCronin7) October 8, 2015
There was also nothing simple or reductive about Long’s finish.
It was perfect — much like O’Neill’s game plan, much like the night itself. Oh what a night!
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