Wednesday 18 September 2019

Aidan Fitzmaurice: 'Struggle for goals could scupper Ireland's Euro dream - and no one has the remedy'


David McGoldrick of Republic of Ireland celebrates with team-mates after scoring his side's first goal during the UEFA EURO2020 Qualifier Group D match between Republic of Ireland and Switzerland at Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
David McGoldrick of Republic of Ireland celebrates with team-mates after scoring his side's first goal during the UEFA EURO2020 Qualifier Group D match between Republic of Ireland and Switzerland at Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Aidan Fitzmaurice

It's the grit and determination within this Ireland side which has kept them in the race for qualification for Euro 2020.

But, conversely, it is the lack of a cutting edge up front which puts Mick McCarthy's side in peril of missing out on a tournament which will be co-hosted by Ireland.

Please log in or register with for free access to this article.

Log In

And the scary thing is, no-one has an idea of how to change that, the hope being that the new breed of Irish strikers, some of them in action for the U-21s last night, can somehow force a sea change.

No-one can be surprised with the outcome of Thursday's qualifier at home to Switzerland as six of the last seven competitive games involving Ireland have finished 0-0, 1-1 or 1-0: tight games and tense days didn't end the day Giovanni Trapattoni was removed from the FAI payroll.

The 44,111 punters didn't pay in on Thursday night expecting goals as years of goal-free action at Lansdowne Road and on foreign fields have made them realistic.

You know what you get with Ireland and it's not a flood of goals.

But this week's events in the group showed that one team can find a path to goal and breeze through it, Denmark overcoming the absence of their manager in Gibraltar (Age Hareide stayed away from the game as he needed a medical procedure back in Denmark) to win 6-0 - Ireland could only manage one goal in Gibraltar.

"It's great for us to have some good goalscorers, that can prove to be decisive in the end," said Jon Dahl Tomasson, the Danish No 2 (and a regular goalscorer back in the day) who stood in for the absent Hareide this week, and will again be in charge for tomorrow's qualifier in Georgia.

The goals Denmark scored in Gibraltar won't, in themselves, make a difference in terms of qualification, as goal difference from matches in the group overall will only come into the equation to separate the teams if they are level on all the elements of head to head (see panel right).

The Swiss have yet to play Gibraltar, they could score 20 goals against the boys from the Rock and it shouldn't make any difference for qualification.

But it's the three goals which Denmark scored in Switzerland earlier in the group which will make a difference, as if teams are level on points and goal difference in head to head (and it's likely that could happen in the group of death between Ireland and Switzerland and Denmark) then it's away goals scored in the head-to-head games which will count.

And the travelling support headed for Tbilisi and Geneva next month know better than to expect goals.

If you take out the facile 4-0 win 'away' to Gibraltar (played in Portugal) in the Euro 2016 qualifiers, Ireland have scored more than two goals away from home just once in the last seven years (in Moldova).

And it's not just travel sickness: in only two of the last 18 competitive matches have the Republic scored more than once.

That's made for a lot of nil-nils and one-nils. And even the man in charge is unsure how to change it. After Thursday's game, McCarthy was asked if the lack of goals was a concern.

"I'll tell you at the end of it. If we have not qualified and not scored, I'll tell you," he shrugged, unable to suggest how Ireland can split the pack and get ahead of the Swiss and the Danes.

"I guess that the simple answer is to score goals, isn't it? That's the hardest bloody thing on the pitch, unfortunately," McCarthy said.

"We went close on Thursday night and we had our chances. To remain as tough and as belligerent and as hard to beat is going to prove vital."

One plus for McCarthy from this week was the fact that his scorers have ended their famine, David McGoldrick the first man from the four-strong Irish strike force to score an international goal, while Callum Robinson and Scott Hogan have 15 caps but no goals.

And Ireland now need goals. Badly.

A win in Georgia next month is to be expected, the Georgians in a bit of turmoil as their manager, Vladimir Weiss, is reportedly on his way out, to Kazakhstan side Astana, though whether he will be in charge for Ireland's visit is unclear, as a heavy defeat at home to the Swiss tomorrow could see him pushed out.

But how to create, and score, in Geneva after that trip to Tbilisi is the worry. Often, Ireland's best football comes when backs are up against the wall, and one goal was enough to earn those famous wins over Germany, Italy, Austria and Wales. It's hard to see it changing in Geneva.

"We could have caught them. We did catch them on the break and who knows, if we can nick it off them we will score," McCarthy said of the Swiss.

Nicking the ball and nicking a goal remains the game-plan for Geneva. One goal may be enough - but Ireland's struggle for goals is what could cost the team a place at the Euro 2020 table.

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Ireland's fullback dilemma, World Cup bonding and the squad standby list

Also in Sport