Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ireland 1-0 Cyprus: The Odyssey To South Africa Begins

IL Trap's first home match as Ireland manager was against Cyprus, a side who 12 months earlier had brought the curtain down on Steve Staunton's short career as Ireland manager. The last time the two sides met was a 1-1 draw at Croke Park where Cyprus had played a disjointed Ireland side off the park.

With the media focusing their attention on Trappatoni's decision to start with Manchester United reserve Darron Gibson in the centre of midfield ahead of Sunderland duo Andy Reid and Liam Miller, this was always going to be a decisive night for Giovani Trappatoni...

Ireland were given a head start even before a ball was kicked as Cypriot playmaker Alanefis withdrew minutes before kick off as he pulled a muscle in the warm up. Cyprus were forced to re-arrange their starting line up with Lambrou coming in as a replacement.

The re-arranging of the Cypriot team seemed to cause problems as Ireland took an early lead through Robbie Keane after a well worked move.

Doyle was taken down in the centre of the Cypriot half after bursting past two players. Whelan took the free kick quickly spreading it out to Paul McShane in right full. The on loan Hull player had come in at the eleventh hour as Steve Finnan's replacement.

He in turn found Doyle on the edge of the box, holding his marker off he laid it back to McShane who passed it back quickly to an unmarked Damien Duff. He turned smartly on the edge of the box and ran at the Cypriot defence, who all backed off. Duff got to the back line and produced a delightful chip that found Robbie Keane at the far post, who had only to meet the ball and finish off the move.

Ireland continued their domination in the early stages with the extremely hard working partnership of Keane and Doyle standing out. And the Liverpool players eagerness to help out his defence showing on numerous occasions as he found himself battling in the full back positions.

At the 20 minute mark Cyprus hadn't even entered the contest, but the ever dangerous Okkas was a man to be watched. He started pulling the strings in midfield finding himself with plenty of room as Ireland's inexperienced central midfield pairing were beginning to struggle after dominating the opening exchanges.

Makridis played a hopeful ball across the box which deflected off Duff and a dithering Kevin Kilbane in the left full position failed to attack the ball, it bounced kindly for Maragos whose first time shot hit Given on the shoulder. The Newcastle keeper didn't even see the short range effort and only had time to spread his body, barely saving Ireland.

Soon after Okkas found himself isolating McShane and easily beat the right full but as he came into the box his tame effort didn't even make Given sweat.

Ireland were being tested, and after a great start you would have expected them to push on but they were found wanting. Trappatoni, Brady and Tardelli were all off their seats giving instructions with Trappatoni extremely animated as he tried to convey his orders to Whelan and Gibson who had been giving the ball away cheaply.

Ireland seemed reassured under the guidance of their experienced manager and began to pressurise the fragile Cypriot backline. Aiden McGeady producing a moment of magic as he beat two players before shooting straight at the keeper and then again as he crossed for Duff only to see Lambrou produce a brilliant header on the line to deny the little man from Firhouse.

A minute before half time Constantinou tried to tackle Keane on the half way line and as the Liverpool player spun to shield the ball he fell awkwardly, Trap, Ireland and Liverpool feared the worst for the talismanic striker as he trundled off the field.

Ireland had gotten to half time in the lead against a side that had been a real thorn in the side over the last four years. Keane was to be assesed at half time and the Ireland faithful would have an anxious wait to see if their captain would re-take the field.

During the first half, the Ireland central midfield partnership was very poor and they failed to get on the ball giving the impetus to Cyprus. The four attacking players Keane, Duff, Doyle and for once McGeady were all very impressive. However, the game seemed to be crying out for Andy Reid to be given a roll in midfield where his playmaking skills could be utilised.

No changes were made as Trappatoni kept faith with his original startind 11. Cyprus made one change taking Lambrou off and going with a 3-5-2 formation.

Ireland stated their intent early, closing the Cypriot's down in their own half and forcing them to go long. And the first chance of the half fell to the Cypriots as Dunne threw himself in the way of a Christofi piledriver.

Cyprus could sense blood and sent Panagi on for Maragos, re-arranging their team for the fouth time as Panagi came in as a holding midfielder as Cyprus lined out in a 3-1-4-2 formation.

These changes confused the Irish as Cyprus began to get the upper hand. The forwards began to find themselves isolated and Ireland's only out ball was through Duff. McGeady was also beginning to fade and gave the ball away a lot. McGeady let Okkas go and the playmaker passed to Papathanasiou whose delicate lay off found Konstantiniou who was one on one with Given but a magnificent O'Shea tackle extinguished the trouble.

Ireland continued to struggle in midfield and by this stage Gibson and Whelan were anominous. Duff and McGeady started to come infield to gather the ball but that brought further problems as now there was no width to spread the ball. Keane and Doyle continued to work tirelessly but were getting precious few balls.

Ireland's first threat on goal of the second half wasn't even that. As Dunne's fantastic 60 yard ball found McGeady in space and for once his cross beat the first man, but went straight to the goalkeeper. Ireland were operating with four at the back and four up front by this stage as Whelan and Gibson were only taking up space on the pitch.

Damien Duff looked back to his best but was only receiving passes from Kilbane. Ireland really needed a break to end Cyprus' domination but Trappatoni is an old school manager and he only seems to make substitutions when a player is injured.

As the game wore on, Cyprus continued to have the upper hand without ever making Given really work. Ireland looked rudderless without Steven Reid in midfield with the Blackburn players presence sorely missed.

And with 15 minutes to go the crowd began to get their voice. They could sense the players nervousness. Whelan and McGeady responded instantly, the Stoke man finding McGeady in space in the box with a wonderful ball but McGeady's finish floated over the bar with the keeper well beaten.

McGeady found a second wind and ran at the Cypriots for the first time since the early stages of the first half, he found Duff in space and Georgallides produced a good save. The tireless Kevin Doyle putting in a man of the match performance forced the keeper to pull off a magnificent save on 85 as Ireland pressurised the Cypriots.

But Ireland weren't out of the woods as Okkas found himself in the box, somehow he bundled the ball past three defenders and found Magridis, with the goal at his mercy. Again Dunne came to Ireland's rescue as he, Given and O'Shea charged the shot down. Ireland weren't playing well but they were fighting til the end.

As the game moved into injury time Cyprus pressed, again Dunne was the hero, clearing a dangerous cross for a corner. The resulting corner broke to Keane as he found Doyle in space, Darron Gibson was the furthest man forward after charging out from the back but the ball clipped his heels. But Duff was quick to support and Gibson found the Newcastle winger in the box but his shot flashed wide.

With 30 seconds to go Caleb Folan replaced the brilliant Doyle, and for the first time in a long time two Hull players on the same international team took to the pitch.

Ireland ran out 1-0 winners and they probably just shaded it. For all of Cyprus' possession Given never had to make a real save.

But there is plenty for Trap and Ireland to ponder. Trappatoni obviously has a problem with Andy Reid, the match tonight was made for a player with his playmaking ability. And only he can answer the question why he didn't go for the Sunderland man.

Gibson is out of his depth at the moment and it's easy to see why he's so far down the Manchester United pecking order. It's also easy to see why Whelan isn't getting his game for Stoke. And after his heroics in the last two matches this was a real comedown for the Lucan man.

Cyprus were without five first choice players and they still made Ireland sweat.

But maybe I'm being ungracious to Ireland's victory. Dunne and O'Shea were brilliant yet again, McShane didn't put a foot wrong at right full. Kilbane was as solid as ever and the front four were excellent. Doyle was tireless and selfless and if this performance is anything to go by it won't be long before the Reading man is back in the Premiership. McGeady actually looks as if he's finally ready to reach his potential and has improved steadily under Trappatoni.

The central midfield position is concerning. And Trap and Co have much work to do if Steven Reid is unavailable for future matches. But 7pts from 9 is a good haul. And if Ireland can pick up 6pts from their next two home games they will be realistic challengers for automatic qualification.

But whisper it quietly. Don't let anyone hear lest the dream should fade. South Africa beckons, and this is the most optimistic we've been for many a year. So clutch it closely to your heart and cherish it.

Ireland could actually qualify. Ireland could actually qualify...