The first game of the post-Giovanni Trapattoni era ended with a familiar result and a familiar performance.
Germany qualified for Brazil in Cologne, beating Ireland 3-0 with goals from Sami Khedira, Andre Schürrle and Mesut Özil. Respectable defeat seemed to be the only thing within Ireland’s grasp and they just about achieved it.
It could have been worse except for the performance of David Forde against a German side that spent most of the game toying elegantly with Ireland.
Yet if Anthony Stokes had taken a chance just before half-time, the result might have been different and more respectable.
It would probably have made little difference. Germany hadn’t lost in Cologne since 1935 and few expected Ireland to get in the way of their qualification for the World Cup.
Noel King’s selection was the strongest reminder that the Trapattoni era was over.
Trapattoni always named his team the day before-at the European Championships he named it a week in advance-but King kept people waiting and when he named it, there was more confusion.
Ireland had four centre midfielders in the eleven. If they had been accused of having too few in midfield under Trap, they now had too many.
Nobody had predicted Glenn Whelan on the right of midfield, sort of a right-wing holding role. With Robbie Keane absent, Stokes made his first competitive start in six years and Seamus Coleman was named as captain.
Ireland’s midfielders weren’t there keep possession and the game quickly had a familiar rhythm as Germany knocked the ball around and Ireland got men behind the ball.
If it was to work, Ireland’s breaks needed to be successful but it wasn’t a happy return for Stokes, who took too many touches when Gibson released him early on and then wasted Ireland’s best chance of the half just before half-time when he missed the ball completely as it dropped to him six yards out after Ciaran Clark’s header had hit the bar.
Stokes was involved in Germany’s opening goal, giving the ball away too easily as Philipp Lahm picked out Khedira. On Thursday, Khedira had hoped that Germany would score “many goals” and he had the first when his shot deflected off Clark, giving Forde no chance.
The talk of formations was ultimately pretty meaningless. Ireland had ten men behind the ball and in theory they would try and hit Germany on the break.
In reality, Germany played in front of them, trying to draw Ireland out but King’s team were wise to that: they would hold onto to their narrow deficit as long as they could.
Forde was responsible for keeping the scoreline down with a series of spectacular saves as Germany ended up shooting from distance in the face of Ireland’s ten-man defence which would have made Trapattoni proud.
Amazingly, Ireland went in at half-time regretting that they weren’t level and Stokes had the best chances again, shooting wide at the start of the half, then missing from long-range when a sensational Whelan long ball brought Manuel Neuer rushing out. The German keeper missed the ball but Stokes couldn’t keep his shot from forty yards on target. Just before Germany’s third, Stokes again couldn’t finish, shooting straight at Neuer when he could have picked his spot.
Ireland’s brief spell of dominance had ended spectacularly. Toni Kroos flicked a ball over the Irish defence and Schürrle collected it, turned and placed the ball past Forde.
Stokes again went close when his shot was saved by Neuer who immediately did enough to keep out Coleman’s rebound.
If it was odd to see an Irish full-back in the opponent’s six-yard box, things returned to normal with Forde keeping Germany out until injury-time when a German counter-attack ended with a beautiful Özil finish and Ireland hoping they had kept it respectable.