Tuesday 20 August 2019

Comment - The diamond? Defending corners? Or were Ireland just stuffed by the best player on the pitch?

Christian Eriksen of Denmark celebrates after scoring their third goal during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-Off Second Leg match between Republic of Ireland and Denmark at Aviva Stadium on November 14, 2017 in Dublin, Republic of Ireland. (Photo by Lars Ronbog / FrontZoneSport via Getty Images)
Christian Eriksen of Denmark celebrates after scoring their third goal during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-Off Second Leg match between Republic of Ireland and Denmark at Aviva Stadium on November 14, 2017 in Dublin, Republic of Ireland. (Photo by Lars Ronbog / FrontZoneSport via Getty Images)

Jack O'Toole

Picking through an Irish football carcass is generally not very pleasant, but ultimately, it's easy pickings most of the time.

The wounds are generally clear to see, and the cause of death is often abundantly clear, but the manner in which the Irish football team is brought to its knees is often overlooked.

Ireland rugby international Donncha O'Callaghan made an appearance on the Ray D'Arcy show last Saturday, and although the former Munster lock spent most of his time talking to D'Arcy about his life after rugby, and oddly, his affection for RTE Six One News anchor Sharon Ní Bheoláin, he did say that he had to try and avoid falling into the typical Irish trap of immediately undermining the opposition after an Irish win. He was speaking just hours after Ireland's 38-3 win over South Africa last weekend.

The Springboks were awful at the Aviva Stadium, forget about green goggles, to ignore that fact was to ignore your own eyes, but we often fall into the same trap for Irish defeats in football.

'Who scored the goal? Never mind, look at X. What were they doing?'

If you listen to former Ireland defenders Kenny Cunningham and Gary Breen analyse Ireland's 5-1 drubbing to Denmark on Off The Ball AM this morning, it really is some of the most insightful and thought provoking analysis of Ireland's shambolic performance that you're likely to hear.

Cunningham and Breen took more of a surgical approach to what transpired in Dublin, as opposed to the axe-wielding, shotgun style of analysis from Eamon Dunphy, Liam Brady and Keith Andrews from the night before.

The former Irish centre-back duo brilliantly assessed the general uneasiness of Ireland's diamond formation, and how the players uncertainty and lack of familiarity within the system ultimately contributed to Ireland's downfall against Denmark.

Breen, in particular, questioned the first goal and how Pione Sisto was given so much space and time from the corner in the build up to Cyrus Christie bundling the ball into the back of his own net.

Breen refused to accept that a lack of time together during international breaks was a sufficient reason for Ireland not being able to defend short corners, and he also highlighted that short corners would be a strong possibility against this Irish team given Shane Duffy's dominance at the set piece.

Dublin , Ireland - 14 November 2017; Robbie Brady, right, and James McClean of Republic of Ireland following the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-off 2nd leg match between Republic of Ireland and Denmark at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. (Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)
Dublin , Ireland - 14 November 2017; Robbie Brady, right, and James McClean of Republic of Ireland following the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-off 2nd leg match between Republic of Ireland and Denmark at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. (Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

He also placed blame on the Irish management team for a lack of practice in this area, and he also attributed Ireland's general lack of familiarity with the diamond formation to management as well.

He is right on both fronts, and it was painfully clear to see last night.

Even with all of the defensive mistakes from Tuesday evening, there was one particular moment during the match where Robbie Brady started to berate Harry Arter for not playing a pass to him that he felt should have been played sooner. Everything from Ireland looked disjointed, everything after Denmark's first goal.

Before Christie's unfortunate failed clearance, Ireland had created some of their best chances of the entire campaign through the opening 30 minutes.

Christie picked out Daryl Murphy with a teasing ball into the box, only for the Nottingham Forrest striker to steer his deft volley past the wrong side of the post.

Brady put James McClean in behind the Danish defence with a perfectly weighted pass that gave the West Brom winger a clear shot at goal, a moment that Ireland will undoubtedly look back on as a major turning point in the match.

But when Christie poked the ball off the post and into the back of his own net, everything started to unravel almost immediately from there.

Jeff Hendrick could have done a better job at helping Harry Arter defend the short corner, but the fact is, Arter was nutmegged by Sisto, brutally beaten off the dribble, and as a result, immediately put the rest of the Irish defenders in a difficult spot.

Andreas Christensen roamed into the Irish box completely unmarked and was able to get just enough on the ball to make it too difficult for Christie to clear.

However, we can do this for all three of the Denmark goals that mattered (the tie was dead and buried by the time Eriksen's third goal hit the back of the net and it was dirt on the coffin time by the time Nicklas Bendtner stepped up to the penalty spot).

But for Eriksen's first goal, a sublime first time strike, Stephen Ward gifted the Danes possession with a careless first touch.

However, he still managed to overtake Brady when tracking back in defence, even though the Burnley midfielder started his run back much closer to the ball. For all the talk of fight and spirit in the build up, Brady showed very little of either quality in this instance.

When Yussuf Poulsen squared the ball to Nicolai Jorgensen, the pass was just beyond Ward and three seconds later and it was in the back of the net.

Even on Eriksen's second goal, a brilliantly taken left-footed effort into the bottom left corner, RTE match commentator Ronnie Whelan said that Ireland captain Ciaran Clark should have done a much better job at closing down the Spurs midfielder.

Hendrick could have helped Arter on the corner. Anyone could have picked up Christensen. Ward could have been more cautious with his touch given his position when receiving the ball. Brady could have done a better job tracking back. Clark could have got closer to Eriksen. All of these things are true.

But what about Eriksen pinging the ball off the underside of the crossbar first-time from the edge of the box with his right foot? What about him taking one touch and placing the ball into the bottom left corner with his left foot? Even his third goal, a completely avoidable chance, but nevertheless, a goal that was expertly taken.

Throughout Martin O'Neill's time in charge of Ireland, his sides have generally defended well against the good to great players.

Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Marko Arnautovic, Miralem Pjanic, Edin Dzeko, Robert Lewandowski, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thomas Muller have all played a combined nine combined games against Ireland. Between them, they have a combined 12 shots on target. Only Dzeko and Lewandowski have actually scored goals.

There are, of course, notable omissions to this group; the 3-0 battering at the hands of Belgium. The second-half drubbing to France in Paris. How many mistakes were made in both of those games?

The goalscorers? Romelu Lukaku, Axel Witsel and Antoine Griezmann. Five goals between the three of them.

What do Lukaku, Griezmann, Dzeko, Lewandowksi and Eriksen all have in common? They're outstanding footballers.

Ireland made it easy for Denmark on Tuesday, and the mistakes and criticisms are certainly valid, but we also must remember that Denmark's win came in large part to the best player on the pitch... being far and away... the best player on the pitch.

When Ireland contain the great players results are generally good, however, when they don't, you can end up watching what happened last night.

Ireland do not have any outstanding football players outside of Seamus Coleman. They have a lot of great characters that get by largely on organisation and goals from set-pieces and crosses.

They only ticked one of those boxes last night. Everyone looks at the carcass but we always seem to overlook the predatory instincts of the lion.

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