20.11.2002 at 00:00 Athens
0 - 0
Republic of Ireland
Referee: Mr A Trentalanage (Italy)
Stephen Mc Phail
Chittis for Nikopolidis,46
Patsstzoglou for Seitaridis,46
Goumas for Dabizas,46
Venetidis for Fyssa,46
Georgiadis for Giannakopoulos,46
Amanatidis for Tsartas,46
Papadopoulos for Nikolaidis,46
Kafes for Basianas,60
Zakorakis for Karagounis,60
Rory Delap -> Glen Crowe (86)
Stato: Don Givens in temporary charge following Mick Mc Carthy's resignation
Greece 0 Ireland 0
How quickly we forget! Gone were the immaculate playing pitches of Japan and South Korea, gone were the packed stadiums, gone was the glamour of the World Cup.
Instead we had a stadium without atmosphere, a pitch of questionable condition and an audience of 4,000 despite an admission fee of just €1.
It was not a setting calculated to inspire, much less an amphitheatre to sustain the beautiful dream or, indeed, the beautiful game.
Greece should have won it, they played the better, more controlled, football. They created the better chances and appreciably more of them. They failed to win because of the innate professionalism of an Irish squad typically and predictably stubborn in approach and in application.
Shay Given was the name on Irish lips at the final whistle. For he was the busiest player and his courage and good judgement ensured that it needed something exceptional to beat him, which was beyond Greece's abilities.
Ireland, whose manager Don Givens received a "best wishes" fax from Mick McCarthy prior to the game, showed as an attacking force to surprisingly good effect in the opening 30 minutes. They took advantage of the fragmented football of Greece when the period passed without reward they never looked like troubling the goalkeeper.
Three times Glen Crowe threatened a goal he ran clear after three minutes only to be pulled back as the referee awarded Ireland a free; struck a sweet volley that found the goalkeeper in the right spot to foil him and then spun another left-foot shot across goal and narrowly wide as Ireland showed initiative and imagination and a persistent ability to penetrate.
Their forward thrusts were incisive and exciting but as Greece settled into a rhythm, so Ireland fell short of the climax that might well have lifted their football to another level. They were forced ever deeper as the effect of Greece's more slick passing game grew apace and Ireland fought a rearguard battle throughout the second half.
The quality of the game was unexceptional butthe state of the pitch was no help it was wet and uneven and the problems it created were compounded by a ball that was light and unusually lively. There were two glaring examples in the opening half when the influence of both impinged upon the flow of the game.
The first almost cost Ireland a goal. Goalkeeper Given ran off his line to volley a simple back-pass from Carsley in the seventh minute, but the ball bounced as he was in the act of striking and just sheer luck took it out for a corner.
It was Greece's turn to know a moment of exasperation in the 41st minute when they should have scored. A swift passing movement from Karagounis to Nikolaidis to Tsartas saw him play Giannakipoulos into the clear through the inside-right channel. But he mis-controlled the ball and was forced to turn it back for Seitaridis to shoot into Given's midriff.
Greece made nine substitutions in the second half, but Don Givens was content with one. And although Greece confined the action to Ireland's half of the pitch for virtually the full 45 minutes, their attacks foundered repeatedly on a committed back four or were repulsed by the alert Given.
So it was to defence you looked for encouragement for the future and the game was unquestionably a triumph for John O'Shea and Richard Dunne. It was remarkable to note that O'Shea's shirt was almost without the stain of perspiration after 90 minutes. His composed personality meant he was never hurried and he looked totally at ease despite the Greek pressure.
Dunne deserved at least as much praise for he was played out of his regular position at left-back. There is no doubt that the powerful 23-year-old defender has huge potential for he coped with a succession of quick and skilful opponents with assuredness.
Kenny Cunningham was his usual battling self and while Steve Finnan occasionally seemed caught in too relaxed a mood, he was quick and decisive whenever danger threatened.
Ireland were uniformly good in midfield where Colin Healy added to his glowing reputation with another performance on the right full of positive football and defensive aggression while Lee Carsley and Matt Holland were combative in the middle.
Carsley was especially prominent early in the game when three times he drove into scoring positions but an unfortunate bounce robbed him of his best opportunity and the goalkeeper made a good save at the near post to foil him on another occasion.
Stephen McPhail failed to make a similar impact in circumstances that were not suited to his game and a fussy referee made it impossible for Gary Doherty to get into the game. He and Crowe showed the ability to combine with effect early on but the referee apparently disliked Doherty's approach to the extent that he could scarcely challenge without being penalised.
GREECE (4-4-2): Nikopolidis (Chiotis 46); Seitaridis (Patsstzoglou 46), Dabizas (Goumas 46), Kyrgiakos, Fyssas (Venetidis 46); Giannakopoulos (Georgiadis 46), Basianas (Kafes 60), Karagounis (Zakorakis 60), Tsartas (Amanatidis 46); Nikolaidis (Papadopoulos 46), Charisteas.
IRELAND (4-4-2): Given; Finnan, Cunningham, O'Shea, Dunne; Healy, Carsley, Holland, McPhail; Crowe (Delap 86), Doherty.
Referee: Mr A. Trentalange (Italy).
Don Givens stressed the importance of appointing a new Republic of Ireland manager ‘‘sooner rather than later’’ after his team played out a low-key goalless draw against Greece.
Under-21 manager Givens is in temporary charge while the FAI seek Mick McCarthy's successor.
They hope to have their new man in place before the next international, a friendly in Scotland in February, and Givens believes a swift end to all the speculation will be in the best interests of the team.
''It is important that a new manager is appointed sooner rather than later,'' said Givens.
''All the boys are wondering what is going to happen and they will be reading the papers in the next few weeks with all the speculation, so it will settle everything down if it is
decided sooner rather than later.''
Givens had stressed the need for a good result after Ireland suffered successive defeats in their opening two Euro 2004 Group 10 qualifying matches.
And he was satisfied with the outcome, especially as he was forced to field an under-strength team.
"Avoiding defeat was paramount for us," said Givens.
"I would have liked to win but I am delighted not to have been beaten, it was a professional performance from the boys.
"There were a lot of plusses. Richard Dunne performed very well at left-back and John O'Shea looked good for someone who is early in his international career.
"The new boys did well and Glen Crowe was excellent in the first half, he didn't look out of his depth.
"Overall I am satisfied with the result. The way the team was set up we were always going to be more defensive than
attacking. I could see us being very solid defensively, but in the first half we were the better team and had the better chances.
"That dried up after half-time because we were pushed back a bit, but we defended well and I never felt we would concede a goal although I never felt we would score either in the second half."
Spectators in the Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium, the home of Panathinaikos, were embarrassingly sparse while the pitch was in a poor state, but Givens felt the lack of atmosphere did his team's favour.
He added: "The small crowd worked to our advantage and I'd have been more worried if the stadium had been packed, because that always lifts the home team.
"The pitch was not of the best quality, it was very bobbly and that made it difficult to control the ball."
Meanwhile, the Republic of Ireland remain in 14th place in the FIFA World rankings released yesterday though a number of the Boys' in Green's European Championship Group Ten rivals have moved slightly.