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Andrews shocks Italy as stand-ins stake claim


Keith Andrews celebrates giving Ireland the lead against Italy last night

Keith Andrews celebrates giving Ireland the lead against Italy last night

Keith Andrews celebrates giving Ireland the lead against Italy last night

THIS is the result that the no-shows who skipped this gathering should be worried about. That is, if they are bothered about their international futures.

Robbie Keane had suggested after Saturday's win in Macedonia that the fringe players who failed to figure in Skopje deserved to stay in the squad, a hint that their loyalty should be rewarded.

The nature of their win in difficult conditions in Liege makes a far more compelling case for their retention.

This scoreline -- secured by goals from Keith Andrews and Simon Cox -- makes for astonishing reading when you consider the strength of the respective parties.

Sure, this was an end-of-season game, a time of year where results are particularly volatile. But the fact remains that Italy were far closer to a first-choice selection than Ireland were.

In terms of significance, there is of course no comparison with the only other Irish win over Italy, the 1994 World Cup win in the Giants Stadium. But there were parallels in the way that the underdogs showed a resilience to defy the bookies' predictions.

The record books will show this friendly was played on neutral territory, yet the occasion was anything but. Belgium has a large Italian community, and a great deal of them are in Liege. So, they created a hostile atmosphere for an Irish team wearing their new black away jersey.

Giovanni Trapattoni made eight changes from the side which took the spoils from Skopje on Saturday with two survivors, Darren O'Dea and Stephen Hunt, both coming through morning fitness tests. Both were outstanding.

Italy, on the other hand, were fielding five of the starting team from their Euro 2012 qualifying win over Estonia on Friday and had names like Gianluigi Buffon, Antonio Cassano and Alberto Gilardino on the bench.

The odds were stacked against Ireland then and, in the driving rain, they were up against it from the outset. Sean St Ledger, lining out for the first time since March, was getting a full workout alongside O'Dea at the heart of the defence. A corner concession within two minutes suggested they would be under the cosh.

Italy, with three in central midfield, had the numbers in that department with the experienced Andrea Pirlo pulling the strings. As a consequence, Andy Keogh was tasked with operating as a withdrawn striker for Ireland, leaving Shane Long as the most forward Irish player. A big test for the likely summer mover, yet he managed to find space early on when slipped into space by Keogh. Alas, an unconvincing swipe with his left foot resulted in nothing.

Azzurri coach Cesare Prandelli may be firm friends with Trapattoni, but there was a distinct lack of cordiality on the pristine surface with a few tasty early tackles. Hunt, who Trapattoni last week compared with a dog, given his tendency to bite at the ankles of opponents, was living up to that stereotype. He was booked for a late challenge on Pirlo in a period where both teams were guilty of indiscretions. A frustrated Andrews was cautioned for dissent because he felt the Belgian officials were leaning towards the crowd favourites.

Hunt was caught napping once, however, when Antonio Nocerino slipped past on an angled run and teed up Giampaolo Pazzini, who skied over.

Nevertheless, the Italians weren't enjoying the directness of the Irish approach. Long had questioned the referee for some of his calls in 50-50 aerial tussles throughout the first half. Serge Gumienny finally cut the Tipp lad some slack twice before the break.

The first, a shot from Hunt, was blocked. The approach was changed for the second, with Hunt rolling to Andrews, who was given ample time to take a touch and release a thunderbolt that took a slight deflection and fizzed into the bottom corner of the net past Emiliano Viviano. A patched-up team raced to celebrate with the threadbare away support who remained vocal through the constant rain showers.

The vast majority were booing at the break, which was preceded by a speculative Nocerino strike that flew into the masses behind David Forde's goal. It was typical of the half; with the Irish defensive line providing strong protection for the 31-year-old.

Trapattoni kept his team unchanged at the break with Prandelli, evidently not too flustered by the situation, taking off Pirlo and the anonymous Giuseppe Rossi and bringing on Angelo Palombo and Alessandro Matri.

He made another two switches on the hour mark, a stage where the Italians were territorially dominant without having played through the Irish rearguard. Trapattoni brought on two more Skopje winners -- Glenn Whelan and Cox -- for Kevin Foley and Long.

It didn't really alter the pattern. Italy on top, but the Irish defence stingy in terms of conceding space. Prandelli continued to send on subs, and the white shirts owned the ball. The two Irish banks of four generally stood firm and waited for the onslaught.

There was a maturity beyond their years in the way they handled the test. O'Dea threw his body at everything at the back, with skipper Paul McShane ably supported by the excellent Seamus Coleman, who grew into this game and can reasonably expect to get a chance in competitive fare when the autumn comes around.

For all the decent individual showings, the strength was the collective. The total value of the Italian team would far exceed the Irish, but they were unable to find the subtlety to make real inroads. In the end, they were reliant on set-pieces with the help of a few dubious calls. Sub Sebastian Giovinco sent one into the stands, and another into the body of the frenzied Hunt.

It was the latter who was central to the icing being added to the Irish cake as Ireland remarkably added a second as the game entered injury-time. Italian legs looked to be made of lead as Stephen Ward sent Hunt scampering away. The Waterford man danced away from his marker and showed admirable composure to slide the ball across the six-yard box to leave Cox with a tap-in.

Trapattoni and Marco Tardelli shared a warm embrace, and enjoyed a stress-free conclusion that was delayed by two pitch invaders who raced unmarked towards the Irish box. On the night, they were the only ones to do so.

Italy -- Viviano; Cassani, Gamberini, Chiellini, Criscito (Balzaretti 66); Marchisio, Pirlo (Palombo 45), Nocerino (Gilardino 59); Montolivo; Rossi (Matri 45), Pazzini (Giovinco 59).

Ireland -- Forde; McShane, St Ledger, O'Dea, Ward (Delaney 90); Coleman, Andrews, Foley (Whelan 59), Hunt; Long (Cox 59), Keogh (Treacy 74).

Ref -- S Gumienny (Belgium).

Irish Independent