Saturday 16 December 2017

Robbie's double joy as Ireland score vital win


Ireland's two-goal here Robbie Keane celebrates with Keith Andrews at the Philip II Arena in Skopje last night. Photo: Niall Carson
Ireland's two-goal here Robbie Keane celebrates with Keith Andrews at the Philip II Arena in Skopje last night. Photo: Niall Carson


Giovanni Trapattoni might be right. It might be time to talk about the Irish players who show up.

Robbie Keane, one of the most vocal in criticising those who stayed away, scored his 50th and 51st goals for his country in a win in Macedonia that leaves Ireland level on points with Russia and Slovakia at the top of the group before the decisive games against those two sides in the autumn.

It was a night of individual achievement but a victory of huge collective importance. Keane's goalscoring accomplishments are immense, but others contributed equally last night.

Trapattoni never seemed to doubt that Macedonia could be beaten and he never doubts his own methods. This was the night when he felt the team finally understood them too.

"We are happy because we think at last this team understands how it is possible to achieve this result every time," Trapattoni said.

There was some luck, he admitted, but Ireland deserved to win with the captain playing a central historic role.

"I was worried about Robbie before the game," Trapattoni said later, "because he sets the tempo for the team, he allows the team to think with his personality. I didn't think it was possible for him to work as hard as he did in this game."

He set the standard, but others were more than willing to follow.

Shay Given had a pain-killing injection at half-time for a groin injury -- "at last it is really a groin!" Trapattoni joked. Given made critical saves either side of the break as Keith Andrews controlled the midfield.

Trapattoni will point to this result when people question his methods and his decision to question the commitment of others.

The players who prepared for two weeks for this game played with passion and purpose and drew the sting from it long before the end. You don't often write that about an Irish side.

Trapattoni, in an error which would have seen Steve Staunton pelted with rotten fruit, said on Friday that Stephen Kelly had been selected to deal with the pace of Bajram Fetai. Unfortunately Trap's interpreter immediately revealed that Fetai wasn't fit. And it was reason enough to say Kelly was selected because he wasn't Paul McShane.

Trapattoni is usually on top of the opposition and his baffling selection of Simon Cox now seems like some sort of masterplan.

Trapattoni's team sometimes play as if anxiety and tension are part of the plan. Last night, it was thrilling for the first half and it was familiar too for its chaos and self-destructive tendencies.

Keane's goals gave Ireland the platform but soon they were sawing a hole under it, conceding a penalty which Macedonia missed.

The two first-half goals gave the appearance of a team in command, but seasoned observers know better and in the technical area Trapattoni and Marco Tardelli paced around in circles like a vaudeville act hamming up their frustration. The second half, amazingly, turned into the controlled performance we were told was going to be the hallmark of Trapattoni's side.

It hasn't been as straightforward as that, in part because of Trapattoni's personality, in part because of Ireland's, but now there is reason to hope. At the end John Delaney ran to the Irish supporters behind one goal and celebrated wildly. He was celebrating more than the possibility of a full house at the Aviva in September. Ireland are hopeful now, ignoring for the moment how uncomfortable a feeling that can be.

Sunday Indo Sport

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