Trap's valuable lesson
New-look side battle hard but fail to match wily skill of Uruguayans
Published 30/03/2011 | 05:00
Value for money and, all things considered, a valuable lesson.
It ended in defeat for the locals yet considering that a full-strength Irish side would struggle to cope with an on-song Uruguay, there is no need to be too despondent about that.
Sure, Giovanni Trapattoni's men were bossed for long periods, especially before the break, when there was an ominous sense that the final scoreline could be drastically lopsided. To their credit, a developmental selection removed that fear with a spirited revival which was inspired by the industry and invention of Shane Long.
This was the game where Trapattoni had chosen to start with an altered system and, before drawing conclusions about the effectiveness, this understrength team had only two days to prepare and not enough bodies to act out an 11 versus 11 trial run.
Unfamiliarity can be blamed for some of the mistakes, although Trapattoni may cite some superfluous passing around midfield in the lead-up to Uruguay goals if his directness is criticised in future.
James McCarthy and Ciaran Clark will have better nights too, unable to bring club form to the table in a different sphere. They haven't faced anything like this style of opposition before, and should gain from the experience.
It was a shame that so many punters, alienated by the prices, chose to stay away. With Ireland switching to a hybrid 4-2-3-1 and Uruguay going with their usual three up front, it made for an entertaining contest, with goals traded in an action-packed opening.
Oscar Tabarez chose to start with nine of the team that lined out in last summer's World Cup semi-final loss to Holland, and it was a man who would have been involved in Cape Town only for injury that put the South Americans into an eighth-minute lead.
Skipper Diego Lugano was in the right place when Keith Fahey headed Diego Forlan's lofted free against Edinson Cavani. The Irish defence froze as the man in blue was given ample time to steer the ball beyond Keiren Westwood. That was a trite harsh on the hosts, who were lively from the off.
"Ireland had started better," conceded Tabarez later.
Keith Fahey was orchestrating things for the green shirts, almost catching Fernando Muslera out with a speculative shot which took a deflection.
Yet the equalising goal was born from the endeavour of Long, who collected one of the many balls pumped into his vicinity, laid off to Paul Green and clambered back to his feet to make for the box. Liam Lawrence sent a teaser towards the direction of the inrushing Long, who rose to nod past Muslera.
A fine team goal, and another combination involving Andy Keogh, Long and Fahey almost resulted in a lead with the latter's daisycutter fizzing wide.
Uruguay came back with an assured response and Abel Hernandez, a menace throughout, twice threatened with the Irish gasping for breath.
It was a weaving run from one of their South African stars, Maxi Pereira, which put the seventh-ranked team in the world back in front. He cut in from the right side and was allowed advance across the Irish midfield, skipping away from Green and Fahey, to lay it on a plate for £17m-rated Napoli striker Cavani, who classily did the rest.
Ireland's defence was exposed on that occasion, and it didn't get any better from there. They were unable to cope with the movement of the Uruguayan front three, with the lesser known Hernandez the real thorn in the side.
The Palermo flier made it three before the half-time cuppa, with the Irish carved open. Fahey's cross-field pass was met with a sluggish response from Lawrence. Uruguay intercepted at pace, Alvaro Pereira advanced with purpose and a few seconds later the incandescent Westwood was picking the ball from the net after Hernandez cooly dispatched.
Irish errors were brutally exposed, with Trapattoni's men unable to bring McCarthy, the intended bridge between midfield and attack, into the game.
"He was a bit down," said Trapattoni of McCarthy. "But it was difficult for him, in this new system, after two days. Sometimes, he didn't get the ball. He will have more opportunities."
Sixty seconds after the resumption the 20-year-old was involved, though. Brilliant endeavour from Long brought the Reading man to the byline and his cutback found McCarthy, who was levelled by Martin Caceres -- who also managed to take out Keogh in the process.
Fahey scored the resultant penalty.
Game on, and it was nearly parity restored when Keogh's drive was parried towards Long by Muslera but the Tipp native was off balance and skied over. A Diego Godin block then denied Lawrence when McCarthy pressure sent the ball ricocheting across the box.
Uruguay quickly regained control and, with 25 minutes left, Trapattoni made two changes and reverted to a more familiar 4-4-2, with Keith Treacy and Darron Gibson sent in for McCarthy and Fahey respectively, with Keogh pushed up alongside Long.
Fresh legs gave the Irish brief impetus, with Treacy forcing a stop from Muslera as gaps opened. Voids remained at the other end as Uruguay opened the home defence at will. A superb double stop from Westwood and a missed sitter by Hernandez were required to keep the margin at the bare minimum.
Trapattoni was heartened by the response of his charges, with Damien Delaney, Aiden McGeady and Anthony Stokes introduced. The Spartak Moscow winger brought an injection of pace and thought.
A sustained period of pressure should have brought Ireland level but Keogh somehow contrived to head wide when the unconvincing Muslera flapped at a rapid Treacy delivery, although he may have been flagged offside had he scored.
That incident was the closest the Irish came to an equaliser, with three minutes of time added on failing to yield any joy.
Still, given the scattered nature of the preliminaries, Trapattoni found plenty of reasons to be cheerful, encouraging Premier League bosses to take a punt on Long. "He has matured into a very strong player and if I was a manager, I would look for him.
"I am happy tonight," he continued. "We put together nearly a new team in two days, and we played against a super team who've been together for a long time and gone to a World Cup."
Put in that context, he can reflect with reasonable satisfaction.
Ireland -- Westwood, Foley, Kelly, O'Dea, Clark (Delaney 75); Green, Fahey (Gibson 65), Lawrence (McGeady 78), McCarthy (Treacy 65), Keogh (Stokes 85); Long
Uruguay -- Muslera, Lugano, Godin, Caceres, M Pereira; Perez (Scotti 90), Arevalo (Gargano 64) , A Pereira; Forlan, Cavani, Hernandez (Eguren 80)
Ref - Said Ennjimi (France)