Sunday 22 April 2018

Robbie Keane: 'The way we played the game we deserved to win'

Ireland midfielder James McCarthy looks to drift past Scotland's James Morrison. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Ireland midfielder James McCarthy looks to drift past Scotland's James Morrison. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Seán Ryan

To the fans it seemed like a defeat: the Republic of Ireland had let their closest rivals in Group D of the European Championship 2016 qualifying off the hook, and qualification for the finals in France no longer looked a possibility.

However, to the players, and manager Martin O'Neill, the script was a little different. Six points from the next two games against Gibraltar and Georgia, and we would be right back in the mix.

"We are still well in this competition," said O'Neill. "Scotland have some difficult games coming up, so there is plenty to play for.

This was also the message relayed by striker Robbie Keane, brought on late in the hope of salvaging a win, and Seamus Coleman, but they couldn't hide their disappointment at relinquishing what O'Neill described as "a commanding position" practically after the half-time re-start.

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan, on the other hand, was in the happy position of being his usual non-committal self in regard to the future of the group - "who knows?" he said, shrugging his shoulders and indicating that there was a long way to go.

However, Strachan was more forthcoming when he was queried about the possibility of James McCarthy being sent off for an elbow to the face of Russell Martin, and the fact that Jonathan Walters was offside when he scored.

"I thought the referee (Italian Nicola Rizzoli) had a great game," he said.

A career in the diplomatic service of a future independent Scotland seems to await Strachan. When O'Neill was informed of Strachan's comment, he remarked: "I'm not surprised Gordon thought the referee had a great game."

"It would have been great to win the game but unfortunately we didn't, so we have to move on," said Coleman, "but, as Robbie says, we're certainly not out of the group, but we're disappointed."

The goal coming so soon after the break was queried, but Coleman said the plan had been to "do the same again, keep tight, and obviously we didn't do that, but all the same there was a massive bit of luck with their goal, and that's the luck they got, but there's still a long way to go in the group and Scotland have a few tough games coming up, so there's a lot to play for."

Asked if Ireland needed Scotland to do them a favour, as they did for Jack Charlton's team back in 1987, Coleman said, "Yeah, but we can only concentrate on our own games and hopefully turn these draws into wins."

Echoing the popular sentiment in the Irish dressing-room, Coleman added: "We can't be too down for too long, we've got massive games coming up in September, and we've got to move on."

Asked if the draw felt like a defeat, Keane, who had come on for the last 20 minutes, said: "Yes, of course, because of the way we played the game we deserved to win. When you're winning a game at home against a team you know you're well capable of beating, it's disappointing (when you don't)."

After a stalemate, which showed up both sides' limitations, it was proably no wonder that the after-match comments were of the bland variety.

From Ireland's point of view, having to chase the pack when big games at home to Germany and away to Poland are ahead, seems an order too tall for this team, regardless of the spin from the dressing-room.

Sunday Indo Sport

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