Referee makes Ireland count cost of victory
IRELAND U-20 2 MEXICO U-20 0 IRELAND swept to the top of Group E in the Sheikh Khalifa stadium yesterday to book their place in the second round of the World Youth Championship against Colombia here on Tuesday evening . . . but the win was achieved at a considerable expense.
It was a pyrrhic victory of sorts, supplied by goals in either half from Stephen Paisley and Stephen Kelly, as Ireland were dealt a triple disciplinary blow. Darren Potter was sent off and Glenn Whelan and Kelly both picked up their second yellow cards of the tournament, meaning that all three are suspended for the joust with Colombia.
Ireland's berth in the next stage had been confirmed before kick-off as Saudi Arabia and Ivory Coast had cancelled each other out in a scoreless draw. That meant Ireland's main aim had become to achieve better than that in order to remain in their Al Ain camp until Tuesday.
They competently achieved that target despite several flurries in front of the Irish goal, in which Brian Murphy deputised superbly for Wayne Henderson in a team which included three other changes from that which had drawn with Ivory Coast last Tuesday.
However, Whelan's 16th-minute caution instigated a sorrowful night on the disciplinary front as the needlessly fussy officials reacted disproportionately to what was always a relatively fairly fought encounter.
The Mexicans were arguably more sinned against, as astonishingly three of their management team were summoned to the sidelines as this clash began to resemble the fractious senior encounters between these countries over the last decade.
Potter was sent off, correctly, for grabbing Palacious around the throat after the Liverpool midfielder had been knocked to the ground. The Mexican was also dismissed for that 43rd minute contretemps.
And the Irish agony was complete when Kelly hacked down Pinto from behind on 52 minutes before receiving the caution which rules him out for Tuesday. He at least responded superbly by clinching the Irish win in the 85th minute when combining well with Eamon Zayed down the right before scrambling the ball home as he collided with Mexican goalkeeper Martinez and defender Jiminez.
Ireland had led from the 35th minute when Willo Flood provided his third assist in two games, crossing the ball from the right for Paisley to head home his second goal in the competition.
Manager Gerry Smith's jubilation at topping a group he had always predicted it would be difficult to emerge from was clearly tinged with regret as he anticipated a difficult second round challenge without three key players.
"It was the referee who made it hard - the players were absolutely brilliant," he responded when asked to reflect on the night's action.
"We're going into the next round, which is going to be a tough one, without our three best players.
"It wasn't a dirty game. Some of the cards were harsh.
"It's hard to explain but we have to regroup now and focus on the next one as best we can. At one stage we were wondering if we'd have enough players to finish the match. The World Cup is not supposed to be about that.
"There's a lot of tired bodies in there. Those type of decisions make players work harder and players get irritated. But we wanted to win, even if we knew we were through. We wanted to top the group."
A visibly annoyed Smith refused to be pushed into publicly voicing his opposition to some of the borderline decisions made by Brazilian referee Wilson Souza.
"I can't say what I really want to say about the yellow cards," said Smith, who ruled out any appeals, in particular a caution for Paddy McCarthy which nobody in the ground could explain.
"You have to ask the fella in the middle what that was all about. I'm annoyed at having to answer silly questions about it.
"The bottom line is that those three players do not deserve to be out of this competition.
"They've worked bloody hard for a number of years to get to this stage and now it's taken away from them."
IRELAND: B Murphy (Swansea City); Kelly (Tottenham), McCarthy (Man City), Paisley (Longford), Capper (Scarborough); Flood (Man City), Whelan (Man City), Potter (Liverpool), Foley (Liverpool); Doyle (Cork City), Elliott (Man City). Subs : Fahey (St Pat's Ath) for Flood (54 mins), Zayed (Bray W) for Elliott (60 mins), Ward (Kidderminster) for Whelan (77 mins).