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European Championship: Scoreless, lifeless and toothless...


Robbie Keane sends his free header
over the bar during the second half
of last night’s Euro 2012 Qualifier at
Lansdowne Road. Photo: 

Robbie Keane sends his free header over the bar during the second half of last night’s Euro 2012 Qualifier at Lansdowne Road. Photo: DAVID MAHER / SPORTSFILE

Robbie Keane sends his free header over the bar during the second half of last night’s Euro 2012 Qualifier at Lansdowne Road. Photo: DAVID MAHER / SPORTSFILE

A repeat performance in Moscow on Tuesday and Ireland's European Championship prospects will be hopeless.

So, too, will Giovanni Trapattoni's chances of extending his reign into another campaign. The boos at the end told their own story.

Slovakia were hanging on at the death, but it took far too long for Ireland to work their visitors into that situation. All the pre-match talk was about Ireland taking the initiative and, finally, producing a competitive commanding display at the renovated Lansdowne Road. We are still waiting.

The lack of invention was startling and, once more, the inflexibility of Trapattoni's system will again become a topic of discussion. A creative spark was nowhere to be seen, save for the odd glimmer from Damien Duff.

Unfortunately, the sum total is that Ireland entered this game with their fate in their own hands and left it knowing that, unless they win in Russia, favours from elsewhere will be required to make the play-off. And, by now, everyone knows what the consequences of failure would be for Trap and his employers.

"It's the first game where we haven't scored a goal," sighed the Italian, "Now, with application and more determination, we must think that it's possible to win in Russia."

The relatively trouble-free preparation lost its momentum on the morning of the game. Trapattoni's decision to select Shane Long over Kevin Doyle was made redundant when Long woke still feeling the impact of a calf problem he suffered in training on Thursday.

"It's strange," said the Italian, "He trained fine all week without a problem. Later in the afternoon, it showed up. I picked him because his speed would have troubled the big Slovakian defenders and we missed that."

The consolation for Trapattoni was that he could revert to his usual first-choice front pair. After a tepid display from that duo, he will be praying that Long recovers in time for the Moscow encounter. A scan suggested it will be touch and go. As Trapattoni suspected, Slovakian captain Marek Hamsik was available. A slight surprise was Vladimir Weiss' decision to leave out clubless frontman Robet Vittek, and deploy Filip Holosko as the lone ranger in a 4-2-3-1.

The crowd who, eventually, trundled in to give the Dublin 4 venue a respectable look were anticipating a fiery start. In truth, save for a five-minute flurry at the outset, they got nothing of the sort. The stay-aways were vindicated by the absence of entertainment.

Trapattoni said that the guns would be out, but it was a first half for chess pieces rather than heavy artillery. Slovakia came with their rigid back four and two holding midfielders that concentrated on keeping Ireland at arm's length.

Ireland had time on the ball, yet were pressed back and struggled to get numbers into the box. McGeady admitted after that he was short of fitness and it showed; he was unable to give the Slovaks the examination he did in Zilina last October. Doyle was similarly lethargic and Trapattoni still reckons the Wexford man is nowhere near his usual self after two months on the sidelines with a knee issue. He was sluggish, while Robbie Keane was finding the Slovaks less accommodating than the San Jose Earthquakes rearguard.

It was Slovakia who proved more incisive in the final third. After a Keith Andrews pass was intercepted, they broke with purpose and Hamsik threaded the ball into the path of Vladimir Weiss Jnr whose left-foot attempt found the grateful arms of Given. Holosko then extended Given with a header.

Irish inspiration was limited, mainly revolving around forays from Damien Duff. Seven minutes shy of the break, the natives finally had a moment to cheer when the Fulham star cut inside, instigated a quick one-two with Andrews and let rip with a left-footer that had the sting taken off it by a deflection.

It was a moment of encouragement, and Ireland emerged with increased urgency. From the first Slovakian kickout of the second half, Glenn Whelan was imploring the midfield to push up, and he got into the box a few moments later only to go down unconvincingly.

The locals began to take on the position of a team that had a greater need for three points, but Slovakia continued to move the ball quicker and forged an opening when Miroslav Stoch fed Weiss who dragged wide.

The point was highlighted again when Slovakia countered with purpose from outside their own box. Dunne was left for dead by Holosko and he teed up Hamsik who was foiled by a superb St Ledger block.

Trapattoni withdrew Doyle and sent for Simon Cox in a bid to change the narrative. Alas, Slovakia broke again, their movement confusing green shirts. Weiss darted into space and fluffed his lines with a poor pass when a shot was a better option.

Ireland tried to lift it in the final quarter, and a McGeady shot was followed by a terrible miss from Keane. Again, Duff prised open a gap, with a pinpont delivery finding the Irish skipper six yards from goal. He timed his jump poorly with the ball coming off his shoulder and scaling the bar.

Then, as the crowd rose to acclaim the belated introduction of Stephen Hunt with seven minutes left, Keane collected a Dunne punt and teed up Cox who had found space but was devoid of accuracy with his left peg.

Increasingly, Slovakia seemed content with their lot with manager Weiss -- who was a content man afterwards -- running down the clock with a few substitutions. Ireland's frustration intensified when St Ledger, the stand out defender, picked up a booking that rules him out of the trip to Moscow.

His centre-half partner Dunne might have eased the pressure ahead of that jaunt in stoppage-time when a Hunt centre found the Dubliner unmarked.

The header was bereft of conviction; a fitting conclusion on a night to forget.

Ireland -- Given, O'Shea, St Ledger, Dunne, Ward; Duff, Whelan, Andrews, McGeady (Hunt 84): Doyle (Cox 64), Keane.

Slovakia -- Muche, Pekarik, Durica, Skrtel, Cech; Karhan, Kucka (Guede 77); Stoch, Hamsik, Weiss (Jendrisek 85); Holosko (Vittek 87).

Ref -- P Proenca Oliveira Alves Garcia (Portugal).

Irish Independent