Ireland held to draw against Costa Rica
IN a bizarre twist, this friendly encounter had a trophy for the winner but, sadly, the Freedom Cup will have no owner after a frantic evening in Philadelphia.
IRELAND 1 COSTA RICA 1
This draw extends Ireland's winless run to five matches, with a return of three draws and two losses since this regime's opening night victory over Latvia, and while O'Neill believed his team should have won every other match in 2014, he could have no real complaints about the final outcome of this tempestuous affair at the picturesque PPL Park.
Costa Rica, who went into the second half a goal behind and a man down, did not deserve to lose and mounted a valiant comeback. Robbie Keane did miss a penalty just after the World Cup bound side converted from the spot but an Irish win would have been harsh on the spirited group which have bigger things coming down the tracks next week.
“Their second half performance with ten men was really excellent,” said O'Neill, “Much better than they did with eleven.”
The Derryman made nine changes from the XI that earned credit for a stirring display against Italy last Saturday and there was no comparison between the performances. On a muggy evening by the banks of the Delaware River, this was considerably less impressive.
“Obviously, I made a lot of changes in the team and that may have led to us being a bit disjointed,” said the 62-year-old.
He was happier with the first half display, however, and wondered aloud if perhaps an element of complacency slipped in from a healthy position at the interval.
Costa Rica, who have been dealt a difficult hand for Brazil with England, Italy and Uruguay as opponents, kicked off in hyperactive fashion in front of a crowd dominated by their supporters.
With a fluid system consisting of three centre halves and adventurous wing backs, the black shirts of Ireland were pegged back in the opening minutes as they struggled to come to grips with the tempo. Los Ticos will win friends if they bring that attitude to the biggest stage.
For all of their energy, the Brazil-bound side were initially short of composure and a panicked shot from Jose Miguel Cubero that was blocked by the head of Paul Green was the sum total of that promising spell
“I thought we did really fine, dealing with anything they threw at us reasonably comfortably,” said O'Neill, who handed a debut to Everton's Shane Duffy in the heart of the defence next to Richard Keogh.
Ireland, by contrast, might have been conservative, but they were effective when they did advance and in the 18th minute they grabbed the lead.
Marc Wilson, back in his old left back station, provided the assist with a clever turn inside and a right footed cross that was skilfully headed into the bottom corner of the net by Kevin Doyle for his first Irish goal since September 2012.
Doyle, a regular until that year's European Championships, was Ireland's brightest player in the early exchanges with his physicality unsettling the opposition rearguard as Keane sniffed around in an attempt to pick up the pieces.
Indeed, the aggression of the Wolves striker, who finished the season on-loan at QPR, was ruffling a few Costa Rican feathers and a running battle with Giancarlo Gonzalez ended up paying off for the Irish before the break when the frustrated Columbus Crew defender lashed out as they contested an aerial challenge and was sent off in the afters as Doyle walked away with his head bloodied.
The dismissal came at a good time for Ireland as the local favourites had just regained their trademark intensity and wasted a fine chance to equalise when David Forde failed to collect a cross and Cesar Borges hooked the loose ball over the bar. In the aftermath, Wilson pulled up injured citing a tight hamstring and O'Neill, without a left full on the bench, had to press James McClean into an unfamiliar position. Stephen Ward may now be called back in for Tuesday's meeting with Portugal.
With an extra man, Ireland were expected to push on and there was a fleeting sign of the numerical imbalance as Stephen Quinn broke free to collect a Robbie Keane pass but a poor touch let down the Hull midfielder who was selected as a left winger here.
The white shirts responded impressively, though, with Marco Urena shoving Keogh off the ball and firing over and then breaking dangerously only for the Derby defender to intervene with a well timed challenge. Duffy endured his only rocky spell as the CONCACAF side grew in confidence and Ireland lost their way.
“They had the man sent off and I don't know if we got casual but we had a really poor spell in the first 15 minutes of the second half,” said the Irish boss. “It took us time to get to grips and the played much better. It was their last chance before the World Cup and we had a few problems we didn't deal with in the manner which we did against Italy. We should have got out and closed them down a bit better than we did.”
Joel Campbell, the Arsenal attacker who scored a memorable goal against Manchester United for loan club Olympiakos in the Champions League, was full of brio and tormented McClean after boss Jorge Luis Pinto chose to target the makeshift defender who eventually required assistance from Quinn.
“He [Campbell] was really excellent in the second half,” said O'Neill, “But I think that didn't come as any surprise because of his exploits in the Champions League and he looks as if he has a really grand future.”
The 21-year-old called Forde into action twice before Costa Rica eventually got their reward from a
different source when Urena dashed through the centre and went down under a challenge from Forde. The contact was exaggerated by the theatrics, but the penalty was awarded and Borges calmly slotted it away.
O'Neill responded by instantly sending Aiden McGeady and Jeff Hendrick into the fray and within two minutes Ireland had a penalty of their own when Quinn went down under pressure from Heiner Mora. It smacked of a wrong decision by the excitable Honduran ref Raul Castro, and the Central Americans' felt justice was served when sub keeper Patrick Pemberton guessed correctly to push Keane's effort to safety.
Shane Long was next in – replacing the stitched up Doyle – and he almost made an instant impact with a clever flick that Pemberton stopped at the near post. As the game really opened up, Ireland began to pose more problems even though Campbell, a real crowd pleaser, had a speculative attempt deflected to safety with McClean arguing that he was fouled in the run-up.
Ireland did finish strongly, though, with Pemberton acrobatically parrying a Long right footer to safety before Wes Hoolahan and Simon Cox came in for the final seven minutes to add greater impetus with the former helping to link play. But Pinto's men, renowned as a sharp defensive unit, stood firm with McGeady and the eager Long thwarted as they sought to nab a late winner.
Exuberant Costa Rica fans endeavoured to get on the pitch at the final whistle as they looked to give their heroes a send-off en route to the greatest show on earth. Ireland, on the other hand, must regroup ahead of Tuesday's New York date with Portugal.
Ireland: Forde, Kelly, Duffy, Keogh, Wilson [McClean 40]; Pilkington [McGeady 65], Whelan, Green [Hendrick 65], Quinn [Cox 83]; Doyle [Long 70], Keane [Hoolahan 83]
Costa Rica: Navas [Pemberton 45], Gonzalez, Duarte, Umana; Mora, Cubero, Borges, Urena [Brenes 77[, Diaz; Campbell [Calvo 86], Ruiz [Bolanos 74]