Sport Soccer

Saturday 16 December 2017

Mortifying night as Germans expose clueless Ireland

Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

The Germans sang as if in a beer hall and, politely, we refrained from interruption. For this was 'Upstairs/Downstairs', the football musical. A mortifying night by the Dodder, replete with flashes of humiliation, ridicule and, maybe above all, class distinction. Nobody writes poetry about German football, because it is maybe too programmed, too governed by power and structure to draw music from a creative mind.

But when they play as Jogi Loew's boys played last night, you come to understand that perfect engineering has a beauty of its own.

Against all this method and efficiency, your own system can acquire the military equivalence of a strongly worded letter to the general of an invading army. They make you feel besieged, helpless, small. Maybe the white shirts add imaginary inches, but there were times last night when Germany had the look of a Panzer unit.

Their ruthlessness may have signalled the beginning of the end for Giovanni Trapattoni. For even in the worst of days, Ireland teams could summon a contrarian spirit. Here they were reduced to training cones.

If a great Brazilian team tends to be more about sorcery, the best German teams tend to have a regimented quality. They can sometimes lack an obvious charisma, but the capacity for quickening dramatically seems a fundamental of the their football personality. And they have the concentration of circling birds of prey.


In last night's match programme, Trapattoni put his best foot forward, paraphrasing the German philosopher, Nietzsche. "What doesn't kill us, makes us stronger," mused the Irish manager in reference to that factory of bad news we remember as the Euros. He might choose to reconsider now.

True, the dramatic spring-clean that followed those Championships was activated by matters outside the Italian's control. If Shay Given and Damien Duff hadn't retired, they would have started last night.

Likewise, Richard Dunne and Robbie Keane, if fit. Without that quartet, Trap must have felt like a man going to work in miner's boots with no head torch.

Deploying three in the middle was his means of finding a way in the dark against, essentially, an interchangeable German five. It looked a little muddled, but the great prairies of open space of last summer weren't visible here. Not initially, at least.

The problem is that, at a certain level in this game, there is no system available to short-circuit class. On 20 minutes, jeers rinsed through the stadium as the men in white declared virtual ownership of possession, passing languidly from side to side at a pace unlikely to draw perspiration, let alone opportunity. They could have been playing in evening suits.

There were a few light-headed jail-bursts towards the North terrace, but enthusiasm tended to peter out at the halfway line. Only Jon Walters seemed to carry a visa for travel beyond that post. No problem there, until we had a game to chase.

That predicament descended upon us within the half hour.

In nine murderous minutes, Marco Reus rifled a goal with either foot and was booked for simulation in an incident that should have decanted a German penalty.

The foreplay was over. After Reus' second, Loew punched the air theatrically.

Then, like a man suddenly catching his reflection in the mirror, a hand reached up to tidy that floppish, Oscar Wilde hair that had, momentarily, lost its perfection.

It was all done with that arched-back air of men for whom Dublin was no more than an airport stop-over. Trapattoni now needed goals, but his guardian saint in that department was seated in a tracksuit in the West Stand.

The older a jockey gets, the more he thinks about ending up on the floor. With a striker, the telltale sign is endless shuttle-runs to the flanks. But Robbie Keane, to be fair, hasn't quite reached that juncture.

His 54th international goal in Astana may have come from a penalty, but it was awarded for a foul on the Irish captain five yards from the Kazakhstan net.

Robbie's gift is simple. Scoring goals is his life's obsession. Maybe it makes him one-dimensional, but last night's starting 11 had a grand total of 14 international goals to their name. Two down, thus, amounted to oblivion.

Six minutes after the resumption, Trapattoni sent in Shane Long to search for survivors. There were none. The stitching of the team had unraveled hopelessly now and three more goals quickly came.

Trap watched it all, hands in pockets, with the resigned air of a man who knows that sometimes football games are best just packed away and forgotten.

At 0-5, all his players retained was anger, but they were wailing at the moon.

Maybe we fool ourselves into thinking that Ireland's place in the game is never far from the top table. But generations have been reared to believe that desire and organisation give a team, any team, hope.

Some of us were in Hanover that May day in '94 when, in a blizzard of cotton blossoms, Tony Cascarino and Gary Kelly scored goals that registered locally as some kind of aberrant behaviour.

The world champions were defending a six-year unbeaten home record. Their people looked in need of smelling salts.

Some of us witnessed Robbie's miracle in Ibaraki too, so taking our seats last night, the German shirt did not seem like a uniform to conjure terror. That was our foolishness.

When substitute Toni Kroos eased past James McCarthy to fire a desultory sixth with eight minutes left, even the visiting supporters seemed inclined to rein in their mirth.

Andy Keogh's consolation was the last act of a game to equal our worst competitive defeat at home (an 81-year-old distinction handed down in other words).

"You'll never beat the Irish," we used sing with comical intent through the great halls of Europe. Not now we don't. On this pitiful night, our silence was our dignity.

Irish Independent

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