Wednesday 12 December 2018

Ireland clinch World Cup playoff spot after McClean cracker sinks Wales

Wales 0 Ireland 1

9 October 2017; James McClean, second from right, of Republic of Ireland celebrates with team-mates after scoring his side's first goal during the FIFA World Cup Qualifier Group D match between Wales and Republic of Ireland at Cardiff City Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
9 October 2017; James McClean, second from right, of Republic of Ireland celebrates with team-mates after scoring his side's first goal during the FIFA World Cup Qualifier Group D match between Wales and Republic of Ireland at Cardiff City Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

John Brennan

So now Cardiff takes its place with Stuttgart, Genoa, Giants Stadium and Lille as a place where the Irish football team dug out a famous, famous victory.

Martin O'Neill's Irish team will be in next week's draw for the World Cup play-offs thanks to more than an hour and a half of sheer perspiration, concentration, graft and, when it was needed, a touch of class.

That was provided in the 57th minute by Jeff Hendrick and James McClean. Hendrick hustled Welsh skipper Ashley Williams into a mistake out on the touchline and then, almost as though he had the ball on a rope, ran along the white paint before delivering the perfect cross that McClean arrowed to the net.

Then it became one of those Alamo jobs, but the Welsh hearts weren't really in their assault. Because results elsewhere last night meant the home team had to win this match and it soon became clear that Ireland weren't about to concede two goals.

O'Neill got his tactics spot on, playing one man up front in a first half that was mind-numbingly awful. Daryl Murphy ran his socks off as the lone striker, but the second half was different as Robbie Brady on the right-wing and McClean on the other side pushed up and forced the Welsh back.

Eventually the reward came with the goal that was greeted with delight by the 4,500 Irish supporters in the City of Cardiff Stadium and with delirium in every pub in Ireland.

Wales must surely regret their first-half conservatism, when they didn't go bald-headed for an Irish side that was sitting back. When the Dragons did come at Ireland breathing fire, the Irish were ready for them and quenched the flames to book a playoff spot.

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