Tuesday 24 April 2018

Impressive Irish win sets template for Austria date

Ireland 3 Uruguay 1

James McClean strikes home Ireland’s third goal against Uruguay. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
James McClean strikes home Ireland’s third goal against Uruguay. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

From three at the back to three in the opposition net.

It is possible that the Uruguayan football community will view the first game of their summer gathering in the same terms as Ireland's error-strewn and experimental show in New Jersey last Thursday.

Cyrus Christie’s left-footed shot finds the back of the net for the second. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Cyrus Christie’s left-footed shot finds the back of the net for the second. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

But that shouldn't take away from a very satisfactory evening's work from Martin O'Neill's side, who warmed up for next Sunday's Austria showdown with a coherent display that gave the Dublin punters reason to head for home in good form.

Afterwards, the managerial praise was effusive. "A very intense team and, in terms of athleticism, they were very strong. Very fast. Overall, a strong team, focused and very well organised. That is the goal of football."

Significantly, they were the words of Uruguayan supremo Oscar Tabarez.

O'Neill was more reserved in his praise. "I was far from downbeat after Mexico," he said, "And if I wasn't going to go overboard about that, I'm not going to wallow in this."

James McClean of Republic of Ireland in action against Jose Gimenez of Uruguay. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
James McClean of Republic of Ireland in action against Jose Gimenez of Uruguay. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

His sense of contentment was clear, however. This might have been diet Uruguay, without Luis Suarez and the early departure of Edinson Cavani, but the Irish application was excellent and the addition of Premier League quality was a boost with eight changes from the team that toiled in the US.

"We had a stronger and more experienced side out today," stressed O'Neill. And that spine was evident with Harry Arter, Jeff Hendrick and Jon Walters bringing a combative streak. The first-named was praised, especially after persevering for the 90 with a niggle.

"It's been stop-start since Harry aligned with us," said O'Neill, "I thought he made a significant contribution."

Centre halves Shane Duffy and Kevin Long - making his first start - were helped by the aforementioned absentees. Uruguay mainly relied on set-pieces to pose real problems.

James McClean of Republic of Ireland in action against Jose Gimenez of Uruguay. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
James McClean of Republic of Ireland in action against Jose Gimenez of Uruguay. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

If their execution of some basic duties was lax, Ireland were tuned in and gave the Aviva patrons value.

The first-half display was decent, but the outcome was determined by a combination of the sublime and the ridiculous.

Walters, the skipper for the day, put the hosts ahead with a stunning effort from outside the box after a combination with his Stoke colleague Glenn Whelan and a tentative touch from Uruguay's Egidio Arevalo Rios that encouraged Ireland's lone striker to take control and have a pop from 20 yards. It found the top corner.

After doing the hard part well, he should have added to his tally before the break when he somehow struck the bar from a couple of yards out when Robbie Brady volleyed a Cyrus Christie cross into his path.

That was particularly frustrating for O'Neill as Ireland had ceded their early advantage thanks to a needless concession when Darren Randolph left his goal for a routine free kick delivery and couldn't get near the ball with Atletico Madrid's Jose Gimenez rising above Duffy and Long to steer the ball into the empty net.

Daryl Murphy of Republic of Ireland in action against Martin Caceres(R), and Matias Vecino of Uruguay. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Daryl Murphy of Republic of Ireland in action against Martin Caceres(R), and Matias Vecino of Uruguay. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Randolph's position is now a talking point, especially as half-time arrival Keiren Westwood impressed. "There's not a great deal between them," said the 65-year-old.

Uruguay had temporarily woken from their slumber before they levelled. Initially, they were quite happy to stand off Ireland and allow the natives to enjoy a bit more possession than they would be afforded in a competitive match; Austria are unlikely to take the same approach. Paris Saint-Germain star Cavani checked himself out in the 12th minute.

Stationed

Still, Ireland had a solid base with Whelan and Arter in front of the back four and Hendrick further on with Robbie Brady and Jonny Hayes stationed wide and switching wings.

Brady started on the right and, while McClean should start on the left ahead of Hayes, that could be a glimpse of the Austrian Plan A. O'Neill looked at an alternative from the restart with Hendrick dropping back into Whelan's role - a back problem forced the change and Wes Hoolahan coming in behind Walters. This added creativity.

Six minutes later, Ireland struck. The midfield trio were all involved with Hendrick's break thwarted, Arter winning the ball back and then linking up with Hoolahan who fed Cyrus Christie. He cut inside onto his left foot and attempted a shot that was helped by a comical fresh air from Sebastian Coates that fooled Esteban Conde.

O'Neill was happy for Séamus Coleman's stand-in. "He's got big shoes to fill," he said, "And he was excellent - a bright light."

Ireland would not relinquish the lead. The closest Uruguay came was from another free with Westwood at full stretch to deny Gimenez.

O'Neill used the permitted six subs and a pair of them combined for the insurance goal with Daryl Murphy's excellent through ball releasing McClean who performed a carbon copy of his winner in Vienna last November by scampering down the left, outspeeding his pursuers and drilling home.

The natives were chuffed and O'Neill was content too. He was asked about the contrast between each half and spoke in terms that might encourage the second half starters.

"In a nutshell we've got to forward against Austria," he said, "I don't want to be sitting here regretting that we haven't done that. We've got to take risks, and try and win the game."

This was good practice.

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