07.06.2003 at 15:00 Lansdowne Road
Republic of Ireland
2 - 1
Referee: Thomas Miluski (Pol)
European Cup Qualifier-match
Ireland 2 Albania 1
Small wonder that a mood of recrimination and chagrin enveloped the gathering when Albania manager Hans Peter Briegel arrived to recall the circumstances of Ireland’s win in the European Championship qualifier at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.
Briegel’s pain was evident, the disappointment etched on his face.
“Congratulations?” he responded quizzically when I shook his hand.
“On your performance,” I said.
“Ahm” he replied with a dismissive wave of his hand, “we lost.”
Therein lies the secret to it all. The result is what matters, all else of little consequence.
Who, having partaken of a tasty morsel, bothers to enquire of its preparation.
This represented nothing of the lavish repast we had hoped it would.
But the three points gained, garnished by the news of the draw in Switzerland, transformed it magically into a worthwhile feast.
Better to be born lucky than rich.
Briegel fought his understandable sense of outrage for a time but it could not be contained.
It grew perceptibly within him while he verbally fenced with the probings of the press then
finally burst the dam of conventional good manners when the spectre of the winning goal rose to haunt him.
“Ireland have a reputation for fair play,” he said.
“Albania played the ball in behind the Irish because our player was hurt. Ireland were given the ball to bring it back to the game and our players stood back, expecting Ireland to give it back.
"Everyone now can have his own thoughts because Ireland did not give it back.”
Briegel had every justification for being outraged at losing so late in the game, but his charge of unsporting behaviour was not sustainable.
One would have had more sympathy for Briegel and Albania had they played the game in a more wholesome manner.
Instead, they sought to frustrate the flow, feigning injury when there palpably was none, lingering over the restarts as early as the first half.
Brian Kerr would not tolerate Briegel’s accusation.
“There was a lot of unsporting behaviour where there were lads who were looking as if there was a lot wrong with them, and I didn’t see an awful lot wrong with them.
“There was an incident in the second half where the referee gave them the ball and said away you go have a crack at us, after the goalkeeper had been down injured for ages.
“In fact the ball went out for a throw-in and he decided he would hop the ball to them and gave them an invitation to attack us where our players assumed he was going to invite them to knock the ball into our end of the pitch.
“It was silly stuff, but I mean they didn’t go about their business in the second half in what I thought was a very fair way.”
It must be acknowledged that the epidemic of false fouls is commonplace in football. Teams seek to gain an advantage by whatever means, their only crime is to get caught. The winning goal could, more likely, be
attributed to the late hour.
Four minutes of added time had passed when Stephen Carr launched yet another hopeful missile for the head of Gary Doherty.
He pulled it down, struck it across the goal and the unfortunate Aliaj drove it into the roof of the net. a strike that any centre-forward would have been proud of.
He was under pressure from Lee Carsley and Robbie Keane and had no option but to play the ball.
That the ball reached Doherty at all after travelling so far from the opposite side of the pitch was significant.
The break in play referred to by Briegal, and the elapsed time, caused Albania to think the game was over. Mentally they had turned off.
It was a lucky break for Ireland. They deserved to win the game because they were more positive, even if they play poorly.
Albania, intent on not losing, defended well. They were technically more skilled and were more comfortable in keeping the ball in a midfield that was more crowded than a tin of sardines.
The Albania mind-set was geared to achieving a draw, that was indisputable.
In consequence their attacking wing-backs, so penetrative in Tirana, seldom came over the half-way line to take on Ireland’s full-backs.
The task for Ireland was to build and maintain pressure and to find a way of penetrating a defence that consisted of 10 players when Albania faced set-pieces.
We will return to the tactical choices made by Ireland, but it was courageous and positive of Kerr to send out two centre-forwards backed by Damien Duff.
Kevin Kilbane tucked in to support Matt Holland and Mark Kinsella to oppose Albania’s talented ball-playing central midfielders.
There was no denying Ireland’s performance was fragmented.
They achieved an acceptable tempo in their play only when David Connolly swapped with Robbie Keane and took the role of linkman in the second half and again when Gary Doherty came in at centre-forward.
Ireland’s start was encouraging and when Keane struck a left-foot goal within six minutes they looked on their way.
But in cavalier way they stood off Albania who took full advantage to equalise within two minutes.
It was by dint of hard work, of much gouging and scratching that Ireland forced a priceless winner seconds before the curtain call.
IRELAND (4-3-1-2): Given; Carr, Cunningham, Breen, O’Shea; Holland, Kinsella (Carsley 55), Kilbane (Reid 75); Duff; Connolly (Doherty 65), Keane.
ALBANIA (3-5-2): Strakosha (Begaj); Beqiri, Cipi, Aliaj; Duro, Lala, Hasi, Skela, Murati (Bellaj 58); Tare, Rraklli (Myrtaj 75).
Referee:T Mikulski (Poland).