Thursday 26 April 2018

Rice outshines senior pros in dour affair

Turkey 1 Ireland 0

Ireland captain Seamus Coleman is tackled by Turkey’s Emre Akbaba during last night’s friendly in Antalya. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ireland captain Seamus Coleman is tackled by Turkey’s Emre Akbaba during last night’s friendly in Antalya. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The high point of this defeat for Ireland was also the primary cause for concern.

Declan Rice, an U-21 international in his first full season as a senior professional, was the most impressive and composed player in a white jersey. His manager Martin O'Neill and captain Seamus Coleman said as much afterwards.

If Ireland had more players knocking on the door with his quality, then it would be easy to come away from this fixture feeling optimistic.

However, O'Neill's side were clear second best against a Turkish side that have struggled badly in the last year.

Rice looks to be a more rounded talent than the Championship core of this group that management will be relying on over the next qualification cycle.

This was a confidence-booster for Mircea Lucescu's side as they were able to control the game for long periods against an Irish team that lacked imagination in possession despite changing to a 3-5-2 system that should have given them strength in midfield.

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Jeff Hendrick, Alan Browne and Conor Hourihane huffed and puffed without ever exerting any real control on the game and it was only when Rice moved into that department for the final 25 minutes that Ireland held onto the ball and executed simple passes to relieve pressure.

Average

O''Neill was speaking generally as he discussed how Rice's ability to drive forward with the ball is what puts decent players on a level above average ones, but those words will give the slightly more established options food for thought. "That's something I have been urging from the senior players," he said.

"I thought from our viewpoint it was a good game to play in because Turkey demonstrated their ability on the ball," he said. "I was pleased with a lot of what we did but obviously there's a lot still to work on."

Declan Rice rises to the occasion as he challenges Turkey’s Yusuf Yazici during last night’s friendly at Antalya Stadium in Turkey. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Declan Rice rises to the occasion as he challenges Turkey’s Yusuf Yazici during last night’s friendly at Antalya Stadium in Turkey. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

He had named what read like a positive selection on paper with first caps for Rice and Scott Hogan and first starts for Seán Maguire and Alan Browne.

The Preston duo joined Bradford keeper Colin Doyle in winning their second caps in this fixture. Doyle's debut came ten years ago in America, where his team-mates ranged from future regulars Shane Long to college student Joey Lapira.

Every player picked here had earned their opportunity, yet it was hard to be too enthused by a first half that really only tested Ireland's defensive capabilities in the new system. The extent to which wing-backs Coleman and James McClean were located in their own half told its own story.

Rice was comfortable with all of his duties, but the service to front pair Maguire and Hogan was limited and the midfield three Hourihane, Browne and Hendrick struggled to exert real influence. Cork duo Hourihane and Browne will be frustrated by their audition.

In a strange way, the opening 45 gave the newcomers an authentic taste of Irish international football as they shuffled around with the opposition controlling the ball.

Despite the change in set-up, the pattern of play was all too similar to many games at this level with the Turks always looking to be two passes ahead.

The exception to the rule was a moment of quality that was at odds with the rest of the Irish play when an 18th-minute through ball from Hendrick sliced open the Turkish rearguard and left Hogan through on goal but the Aston Villa man opted against an early shot and instead rounded goalkeeper Volkan Babacan and created a tight angle from which he found the side netting.

That took the Turks by surprise and they regrouped to leave Ireland feeding off scraps. Still, for all their dominance in terms of possession, they didn't really test Colin Doyle which indicated the back three were doing their jobs well.

"We had the best chance," O'Neill observed, "And we restricted Turkey to a number of shots from outside the penalty area."

He was relatively happy with how the strategy worked. "I don't think the players were uncomfortable with it," he said, "And it's certainly something we will look at again."

McClean isn't entirely suited by it, though, and his frustrations were apparent in a late challenge that managed to rouse the locals. It was his way of trying to get involved in a game that was passing him by a bit.

If Ireland had kept the Turks at arm's length before the interval, the picture changed radically from the restart and old failings when it comes to defending short corners and set-pieces reared their heads with fresh personnel.

O'Neill's men had already dodged a bullet from one short corner when another was fashioned with Yusuf Yazici sending in a delivery that caught Ireland off guard with Mehmet Topal meandering into space to dispatch the ball beyond Doyle.

"We conceded from that in the Denmark game," said the Derryman, "So hopefully that's not a trend."

Austria also scored from a corner at the Aviva last summer, and this is an area that's hurting Ireland, especially when they trade off defensive organisation.

It would cost them the only goal here, as they failed to create another chance comparable with Hogan's miss.

O'Neill used all six subs, with Matt Doherty debuting as a replacement for Seamus Coleman. Maguire was hooked for Shane Long, while the arrival of Ciaran Clark and David Meyler preceded Rice's switch.

There were variations of 4-4-2 and 4-5-1 as wide men Daryl Horgan and Alan Judge were sprung with McClean more comfortable with an attacking brief.

Ireland did force free-kicks and a corner or two in promising positions, but the delivery did not threaten a Turkish defence that had conceded three at home to Albania in their last friendly in Antalya.

"I think we have to try and create more in games," said O'Neill, mastering understatement.

Service was the problem and space actually appeared when Rice was redeployed. He can only do so much, however. Older players will have to learn fast to pave the way for a brighter future.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport