17.08.2005 at 19:30 Lansdowne Road
Republic of Ireland
1 - 2
Referee: Mr P .M. Gomes Costa (Portugal)
Wednesday 17th August 2005
Stato: Italy end Ireland's 17 home match unbeaten run
Ireland 1 Italy 2
Republic of Ireland were given plenty of cause for concern ahead of their World Cup qualifier against France as Italy won well at Lansdowne Road last night. Manager Brian Kerr will hope the game was merely a friendly lull ahead of the French clash next month as his side were torn apart by an Italy side still in pre-season.
The fact that this was Kerr's first defeat in 18 Lansdowne Road matches after 12 wins and five draws since his appointment two-and-a-half years ago, will not prove of particular concern.
But what will, with the visit of a France side reinvigorated by the return of the talismanic Zinedine Zidane now just three weeks away, was the way his side were opened up, particularly in the opening 30 minutes.
Italy's passing and movement often left Ireland's supposedly fitter, sharper players, who all returned to league action at the weekend, chasing shadows. They were deservedly 2-0 ahead just after the half-hour through AC Milan duo Andrea Pirlo and Alberto Gilardino, and although Andy Reid swiftly pulled one back, chances to equalise were few and far between after that until the dying moments.
Ireland certainly cannot afford such surprising lethargy against the French, otherwise their current standing and advantage at the top of Group Four will be lost, and the road to Germany will become a tortuously rocky one in the last two matches.
Their early tardiness was evident in the first minute, with Liverpool right-back Steve Finnan giving the Italians a helping hand courtesy of two schoolboy errors. His first was to give the ball away to Gennaro Gattuso deep inside his own half, after which he immediately compounded that by failing to cut out the ensuing curled cross from the AC Milan veteran.
Christian Vieri was the grateful recipient on the edge of the area, but he lacked his customary accuracy as his right-foot finish was wide of Shay Given's right-hand post.
But that set the tone as Ireland were a yard off the pace, and although
Tottenham winger Andy Reid forced a low save from Monaco goalkeeper Flavio Roma, the Italians were deservedly ahead in the 10th minute.
Ireland were scythed apart when Alessandro del Piero, back in the fold after a year-long absence, played a neat ball in to the feet of Vieri, who found himself superbly denied by Given as he toe-poked a close-range shot goalwards.
From the corner, and Fabio Cannavaro's near-post flick, Given again performed heroics and showed stunning reactions to keep at bay Gilardino's sidefoot shot from two yards out.
But just as the Newcastle goalkeeper was regaining his feet, he could do nothing about Pirlo's thumping drive from 15 yards as the midfielder quickly pounced on the rebound.
Ireland at least countered through Kevin Kilbane and Clinton Morrison, spearheading a three-pronged attack that included Andy Reid and Damien Duff, with Ireland's all-time leading scorer Robbie Keane out with an ankle injury.
Ireland were seemingly drawing the sting out of their illustrious opponents but then came a moment of sheer brilliance from Italy in the 28th minute.
Alessandro Nesta delivered a raking 60-yard pass into the path of the attacking Vieri for the 47 million striker to connect with a left-foot sidefoot volley from just inside the area. Given was comfortably beaten but the ball rebounded off the crossbar.
Italy's frustration was shortlived, for just after the half-hour they duly gained their second as another slide-rule pass from del Piero picked out Gilardino, who was perhaps marginally offside. But the flag stayed down and after Given had again come to Ireland's rescue with another fine stop low to his left, he suffered further bad luck with the rebound as the AC Milan striker neatly flicked the ball over him and into the net.
Ireland, though, managed to quickly hit back when Cristian Zaccardo failed to deal with a Morrison cross from the right, allowing Andy Reid to drive home his third Irish goal and his first for almost a year.
Kerr's side regained some solidity when John O'Shea was forced into central midfield from his starting left-back role six minutes before the break after Matt Holland was caught in the face by Gattuso in an aerial challenge.
Andy O'Brien's introduction for Richard Dunne at the interval also gave the defence added strength. Italy were certainly not the attacking force in the second half that they were in the first, although four changes contributed to that.
Instead, the chances that did materialise came late on for Ireland, with Morrison firing into the side-netting from close range, while Stephen Elliott a 73rd minute sub for Andy Reid was denied his first senior goal when Roma pushed away his angled shot on the volley. Morrison thought he had equalised in the third minute of injury time, but he had clearly used his hand to control before sweeping home a right-foot shot.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Given; Finnan (Carr 57), Dunne (O'Brien 46), Cunningham, O'Shea (Miller 77); S. Reid, Holland (Harte 39), Kilbane, A. Reid (Elliott 75), Morrison, Duff.
ITALY: Roma; Zaccardo, Nesta (Materazzi 46), Cannavaro (Barzagli 63), Zambrotta, Gattuso, Pirlo (Barone 75), Di Rossi (Grosso 46), Vieri , Gilardino (Iaquinta 46), Del Piero (Diana 46).
Referee: Paulo Costa (Portugal).