16.10.2002 at 19:30 Lansdowne Road
Republic of Ireland
1 - 2
Referee: R Pedersen (Norway)
European Cup Qualifier / Prog-match
This was to be Mick Mc Carthy's last game in charge of Ireland
Ireland 1 Switzerland 2
Ireland discovered that World Cup reputations count for nothing as Switzerland shattered their proud record at Lansdowne Road last night.
Victory flattered Switzerland but not to the extent that their win came as a major shock. While Ireland enjoyed more of the play and dominated the second half they found that good organisation, excellent technique and a capacity to make the most of their scoring chances served the Swiss well.
They were confined to their own penalty area for long periods after half-time but they defended with such efficiency and such confidence that goalkeeper Stiel was rarely threatened. So Mick McCarthy's remarkable record of never having presided over a losing Irish team in a competitive match at Lansdowne was wrecked. Ireland's long unbeaten run stretched back over 18 matches in total, 17 of them in McCarthy's reign.
Switzerland's win - courtesy of a killer goal three minutes before full-time as Ireland desperately sought a winner - provided the boo boys with the ammunition they sought to criticise Ireland and the manager at the full-time whistle.
Minutes earlier they had chanted "Keano, Keano" in an obvious reference to the Manchester United captain but those chants were quickly drowned by a louder chant for Ireland. Inevitably there was another ripple of protest as the manager left the pitch.
But McCarthy was philosophical afterwards. "I have a thick-skin and a brass neck" he said, "and I am going to see this out.
"I accept I will be criticised because this business is results-driven and we have just lost our first two matches in the European Championship. To qualify now by winning the group we must win our remaining six matches to give us 18 points although we could probably go through in a play-off if we accumulate 16 points."
Just where those points are going to come from was not immediately obvious. Ireland played with predictable energy and commitment but they were un-done by a team that had an effective game plan and executed it admirably They were encouraged by Ireland's inability to capitalise upon their early work for they took inspiration from the fervent and exciting atmosphere generated by a capacity attendance to hustle Switzerland deep into their own half for the opening 20 minutes.
Yet Ireland played with more emotion than calculation and overall their first half performance was a ragged patchwork quilt of errors, shredded by careless distribution from defence, by a lack of pattern to their approach play and an erratic service to strikers Robbie Keane and Damien Duff.
Keane did not help his own cause by attempting too much on the ball, his eagerness to turn every pass into a scoring attempt meant his work was predictable.
The Swiss sat tightly on the Irish strike force, denying them the space and time they needed to get the ball under control and Ireland, in contrast, were much looser. Midfielder Vogel found wide open spaces in midfield to orchestrate Switzerland's performance and Cabanas, on the right flank, was equally influential. They achieved a balance in their play that owed much to the width provided by Cabanas on the right and Wicky on the left and to the accurate passing of Vogel and Hakan Yakin in central midfield.
In consequence, their opening goal came as no surprise for they were always threatening against an Irish defence regularly caught square and stretched by the width in Switzerland's play.
The goal came on the call of half-time, Murat Yakin knocking the ball from half-way to his brother Hakan Yakin who lobbed Given from six yards with Ireland in disarray.
Predictably Ireland were much more driven in the second half, their teamwork more concentrated and intense and the Swiss were forced deeper and deeper into defence. The supply to the Irish strikers was improved by Duff's withdrawal and with Colin Healy operating to good effect on the opposite flank, Ireland maintained a push that had to yield dividends. Yet the Swiss were outstanding in their defiance, the formidable Murat Yakin was an inspirational force for them in the heart of the penalty area.
Ireland had to expend so much energy in producing the equalising goal that their football was fragmented with a touch of desperation long before the final quarter. And as subsequent events showed, they had few ideas and little imagination with which to further upset the Swiss after their 77th minute goal.
It was significant that the goal should come from a Swiss defender for Ireland seemed utterly incapable of creating a worthwhile scoring chance. Even Duff's influence was gradually countered as Cabanas dropped deep to support full-back Haas.
Duff was harshly treated, of course, and earned at least six free kicks. The buffeting he received eventually forced him off in the 81st minute and one sensed Ireland had reached the modest pinnacle of their efforts on this disappointing night with the equalising goal.
Harte's free from the left helped produce it for left-back Magnin was under enormous pressure from Breen when he deflected the ball past his own goalkeeper from just a yard out.
In total contrast to the huge effort expended by Ireland in forcing such a scrappy goal was Switzerland's neat break out of defence in the 87th minute that saw the clever Chapuisat wheel away from Breen's attempted tackle before clipping the ball through for substitute Celestine to beat the unprotected Given from six yards.
So a night that had begun memorably with a glorious welcome to Ireland on their first home appearance since the highlights of the World Cup ended in disappointment.
Their shortcomings were all too obviously exposed by a well-balanced and shrewd Swiss team whose economical team work highlighted the uneven work of an Irish side always struggling to hit an even tempo.
Referee: R. Pedersen (Norway).
It was not just the Swiss who came to Lansdowne Road in a defensive frame of mind.
Struggling to find the right note in a media build-up to this match marked by such undiluted pessimism, Mick McCarthy, the FAI and the players all felt the need to fight a grimly determined rearguard action ahead of kick-off.
As they battled their way through the criticism, FAI boss Brendan Menton had spent his time defending his clearly unsettled and besieged manager, the manager spoke up on behalf of much-maligned defender Gary Breen and the players all rallied to their boss's cause.
One of McCarthy's main arguments against the knockers was that the air of despondency was a media concoction not felt by the Irish public.
The usual rousing reception at a packed Lansdowne Road certainly seemed to bear that out. It has, after all, been a long time since an Irish crowd has been asked to boo one of their own By half time, though, they were jeering of their own volition as McCarthy's dogged determination to persist with Breen in central defence at the expense of Manchester United's clearly in-form John O'Shea was put into further perspective.
It was Hakan Yakin who outpaced both the West Ham reserve and the chasing Matt Holland to latch onto a long-range free-kick and lob Shay Given, further raising the anxiety levels of a crowd whose buoyancy was slowly being eroded by a disjointed Irish performance.
The Swiss performance had proved to be as stubborn as McCarthy's selection policy which maintained the natural winger Damien Duff as a front man alongside Robbie Keane with Kevin Kilbane once again starting wide on the left. Ironically, Ireland's one real chance of a first half goal had come from that flank, but it was Ian Harte who supplied the cross which bounced off the unmarked Keane's head beyond the far touchline rather than being directed there.
Ireland were uninspired rather than under pressure but crucially they seemed to lack the spirit that had spurred them on against the media before the match. If they were playing for their manager's honour it barely showed.
Then came the goal, on the stroke of half time, and it was not just the manager's pride that was on the line.
And yet little changed immediately after the restart. McCarthy made no changes, the Swiss carried on their containment policy and the Irish continued to huff and puff.
It was not until the hour mark, when Kilbane was withdrawn and Clinton Morrison thrown on, that proceedings sprang to life.
Suddenly Keane looked livelier, the referee's assistant's flag his nemesis, and Duff, moving wide, was back in business.
And so were Ireland when Breen put the right back under pressure at the far post and forced him to put past his own keeper. Maybe this was the stroke of luck McCarthy was due after such a harrowing few months.
But then McCarthy decided to take fate into his own hands. Chasing the winner he may have been by putting on tricky Sunderland winger Thomas Butler and Gary Doherty. After all, it had sort of worked in Moscow where the manager had been instantly rewarded with a goal from the Spurs man only for Ireland to concede directly after it.
This time, Ireland cut out the scoring part as the three-man defence was left badly exposed when the Swiss counter-attacked and the visitors' substitute Fabio Celestini beat the lot of them to plant the ball beyond Given.
Then came the chants of "Keano, Keano", not a minority either and certainly not aimed at Robbie.
And as the final whistle blew the chants turned to more boos. After 18 consecutive home matches without defeat and plenty of them memorable ones against teams far better equipped than McCarthy's the former captain's remarkable legacy as Ireland boss was being torn apart by an unremarkable and far from memorable Swiss outfit.
Football's cruel like that, but then again, Ireland are now facing the prospect of watching another major tournament from the sidelines.
That would be three out of the last four. And maybe that is the more accurate McCarthy legacy.