11.10.2006 at 19:45 Lansdowne Road
Republic of Ireland
1 - 1
Referee: Mr. B. Layec (France)
European Cup Qualifier-match
Rep of Ireland 1 Czech Rep 1
Wednesday 11 October 2006
Stato:Debut for Paul Mc Shane
Three minutes before the final whistle Ireland’s captain, Robbie Keane, lost a glorious chance to win a tense and dramatic UEFA qualifying tie at Lansdowne Road when he steered a header from five yards just the wrong side of the upright.
It was a heart-breaking miss by Keane who was set up beautifully by a glorious cross from Damien Duff on the right wing. The ball flew narrowly over the head of Jonathan Douglas and beat goalkeeper Petr Cech before it reached Keane and he slumped to the floor in exasperation as he missed.
The pity of it was that Keane had invested so much energy and effort into a performance that typified the drive and spirit of an Irish team firmly committed to putting the disappointment of Saturday’s match in Cyprus behind them.
The transformation in the team over four days was quite remarkable and all the more extraordinary because of the inexperience and youthfulness of so many of this Irish team.
Twenty-three years old goalkeeper Wayne Henderson was playing in his third international as was full-back Stephen Kelly, who also is 23.
Jonathan Douglas, in central midfield, was playing in his fourth international and 20 years old centre-back Paul McShane was making his international debut.
Viewed against this background, the ability of Ireland to take the contest to the experienced Czech Republic and win a greater share of possession to set up better and more numerous scoring chances was quite exceptional.
They did so by a return to the basics that have served successive Irish teams so well over the years. In other words they worked harder than the Czech Republic, they applied themselves more diligently to defeating the Czechs in their individual contests, played as one unit by concentrating on supporting the player in possession or in defence and overall emerged from the contest with pride restored, reputations enhanced and a new spirit of optimism.
Introducing so many relatively new players was a course forced on manager Stephen Staunton by circumstances – he also brought in as substitute the 21 years old Alan O’Brien of Newcastle United for his fourth international appearance and Alan Quinn of Sheffield United earned his ninth cap, also as substitute.
But the response of those players showed there is no substitute for desire, that there is no compromise at international level if you want to succeed, there is no alternative to hard work.
The entire exercise will have encouraged him to continue on the path he identified when he took over - that of finding new players of the required calibre to take the team on.
Almost ten years ago – on March 25, 1998 - the former manager, Mick McCarthy, introduced six new players to international football in a friendly international in Olomouc, coincidentally against the Czech Republic.
The loss of the match 0-2 was incidental, what was more important was the fact that from that group of international debutants he discovered players of substance who went on to contribute substantially to Ireland’s cause – Robbie Keane, Damien Duff, Mark Kinsella, Graham Kavanagh included.
It may very well be that players like Henderson, O’Shea, Kelly, O’Brien, Douglas and Quinn will go on to enjoy similarly successful international careers. Certainly the Irish fans in an attendance of 35,500 will have been hugely encouraged by their attitude and their courage.
Nobody epitomised that more effectively than McShane, a player who was unable to make a breakthrough at Manchester United and is currently playing for West Brom.
Small for a centre-back, he met the giant Jan Koller unflinchingly and emerged from a bruising battle with great honour. He set a headline that was an inspiration to those around him.
How well Ireland responded to that and to the noisy support of fans who contrived to create an atmosphere that was described by Kevin Kilbane as the best he had experienced at the old headquarters !
Their contribution made for a night of real excitement and drama as they fought with real fervour to dominate the game and secure the goals that would have adorned a heart-warming performance.
Kilbane himself was a hero, closing on a beautifully driven low cross from Damien Duff in the 62nd minute to knock the ball past goalkeeper Cech with his left instep.
It was his first goal for Ireland since February 2003 when he scored against Scotland in Brian Kerr’s first match as manager.
Kilbane and the recalled Lee Carsley were influential players in the heart of the pitch and Ireland’s commitment here ensured that such highly rated players as Arsenal’s Rosicky, Rozehnal of PSG, Kovac of Spartak Moscow, Ujfalusi of Fiorentina and Jankulovski of AC Milan were never allowed control the game.
Ireland might have won had Jonathan Douglas better luck with his strike in the 16th minute when he ran clear onto Keane’s pass to confront goalkeeper Cech only to see the goalkeeper deflect his finishing effort from 18 yards outside for a corner with his out-stretched foot.
A win would not have flattered this rejuvenated Irish side but they had to settle for a point when they lost an equalising goal within a minute of scoring. The Czechs won a free and when it was taken quickly to Koller’s feet the big man turned McShane for the only time in the match and beat Henderson’s despairing dive with a shot into the far corner from the left-hand edge of the Irish penalty area.
For once McShane was beaten, for once Henderson was caught a little too far off his line and for once there was no cover there when Koller turned on to his right foot. On such slim margins hung the result of a match that helped raise Irish spirits and may have presented a number of exciting new internationals to the expectant Irish fans.
Republic of Ireland: Henderson; Finnan, McShane, O’Shea, Kelly; Duff, Carsley, Douglas, Reid (Quinn 71), Kilbane (Alan O’Brien 79); Keane.
Czech Republic: Cech; Ujfalusi, Jiranek, Rozehnal, Jankulovski; Plasil (Grygera 85), Kovac, Rosicky, Polak; Koller, Baros (Jarolim 83).