Too little too late as Trap's men shown up

Ireland 2 Russia 3

Robbie Keane shows his frustration after missing a late chance in the 3-2 defeat to Russia last night. Photo: Sportsfile

Daniel McDonnell

A competitive evening like no other in the Trapattoni era. Goals galore, chances aplenty and organisation tossed out the window. It culminated with a victory that Russia deserved, despite a late Irish rally.

Spirit saved the hosts from humiliation. Twenty minutes from time, they were three down with nobody to blame. It wasn't men against boys. Rather, it was men against slower, less-gifted men.

However, the arrival of some new faces and the momentum from a dubious penalty brought Ireland to the brink of a draw that seemed implausible minutes earlier.

The exhilarating conclusion shouldn't delude the memory of what went before. This was a humbling experience for Trapattoni, who was sure he had moulded his players into a solid unit capable of coping with the challenge presented by Group B's top seeds.

Alas, that confidence was misplaced, with Russia finding gaps every time they strung a couple of passes together. In truth, they might have extended their lead before the dramatic late turn of events left them hanging on.

A draw would have represented an injustice, and Trapattoni admitted that the better team won.

The 71-year-old has a considerable amount of work to do ahead of Tuesday's battle with Slovakia in Zilina. Armenia's shock defeat of the Slovakians earlier in the day meant that giddy fans descended on the Aviva Stadium dreaming of automatic qualification. As it happened, it turned out to be the only good news of the day for the natives. Russia, Slovakia and Ireland sit together on six points.

"The qualification starts again on Tuesday," said Trapattoni. "I am a little bit, but not too much, disappointed. We have many games left."

His opposite number, Dick Advocaat, preached a similar message after explaining how he constructed the game plan to come away with the spoils, instructing his men to get forward in numbers and press Ireland into going for the long ball quicker than usual.

Advocaat also sprung a surprise in his team selection, promoting the in-form Alexander Kerzhakov ahead of Stuttgart's Pavel Pogrebnyak, the man the home defence were preparing to encounter. The Dutchman also retained CSKA youngster Alan Dzagoev, leaving Vladimir Bystrov on the substitutes' bench.

Robbie Keane had suggested this qualifier might resemble a game of chess in the early exchanges, but the Russians were in no mood to hang about, going straight on the offensive from the tip-off in a clear statement of intent with three attackers followed by runners from midfield. Indeed, we had the slightly odd spectacle of Ireland launching a counter-attack barely a few minutes into a home international.

They could have taken the lead, though. Aiden McGeady, in search of a first international goal, cut inside and produced a shot that Igor Akinfeev found too hot to handle. Keane responded with a cross shot that dropped off the bar and, after the ball ping-ponged its way around the box, McGeady fizzed another attempt wide.

Encouraging? For around 60 seconds, as Russia responded by grabbing the lead. Richard Dunne, sluggish at the outset, conceded a soft free. The Irish defence switched off as Sergei Ignashevich responded to Andrei Arshavin's quick take, unsettling Given, who spilled, allowing the Russian defender to acrobatically flick the ball across the area where Glenn Whelan dawdled as Kerzhakov reacted quickest to convert with the aid of a Sean St Ledger deflection.

It was an ominous indication of what was to come. Quite simply, the Russians were always a move or two ahead of Trapattoni's charges, who were chasing shadows or simply running into each other as one-touch football left them in a spin. Ireland panicked, conceding possession cheaply.

Russia, with an extra body in midfield, controlled the tempo and forged further opportunities. "We were outnumbered at times," conceded Whelan afterwards.


Both Yuri Zhirkov and the impressive Roman Shirokov had threatened before the red shirts added a second before the half-hour mark.

This time, the genesis was the use of the overlapping full-back, the outlet which served them so well in Euro 2008. Right-back Alexander Anyukov ventured forward with purpose and drilled a low centre which Kerzhakov dummied, allowing Dzagoev to fire beyond Given. Trapattoni turned from the sideline and walked towards the bench. His so-called 'solid' team were being torn apart.

They were low on ideas with Kevin Doyle, the target man, down on points to the Russian centre-halves and growing frustrated with the officials. McGeady was the bright light, making a probing run just shy of the interval and feeding Keane, who was pushed wide and squared into no-man's land.

Alas, a rapid-fire counter-attack from the visitors that culminated with an Arshavin shot -- their ninth of the first half -- again exposed the ease with which Advocaat's men were unlocking the home rearguard.

The Russians headed for the dressing-room to an ovation from their faithful, and returned high-fiving, brimming with the confidence that defined their display to that point.

Ireland had no discernible Plan B and soon shipped a third. Shirokov twisted away from Paul Green, who was suffering badly at that juncture, and let rip with a shot that took a cruel deflection off Dunne that left Given with no chance. Three goals to the good with the assured three points. Or so it seemed.

Trapattoni pitched Shane Long into the fray in place of Liam Lawrence and subsequently introduced Darron Gibson and Keith Fahey for Whelan and Doyle, admitting that he withdrew the Wolves striker with Tuesday in mind.

Almost immediately, Keane won a soft penalty after minimal contact with Zhirkov and dusted himself down to stylishly slot into the bottom corner. Finally, something for the near-capacity crowd to get excited about. From the restart, McGeady earned a corner, Ireland's first, and the optimists began to salivate.

Suddenly, there was a spring in the Irish step, the fresh legs providing some impetus. Another free was lobbed into the danger zone and McGeady picked up the pieces to force a stunning stop from Akinfeev but Long was there to bully through and dispatch the rebound.

Astonishingly, Ireland were back within touching distance.

They laid siege to the opposition goal, launching exocets into Russian territory in the dying stages which extended beyond the four minutes of added time. This was no evening for miracles, though. Instead, harsh reality won out.

Ireland -- Given; O'Shea, St Ledger, Dunne, Kilbane; Lawrence (Long 61), Whelan (Gibson 66), Green, McGeady; Doyle (Fahey 71), Keane.

Russia -- Akinfeev; Anyukov, Ignashevich, V Berezutskiy, Zhirkov; Shirokov, Denisov, Zyryanov (Denisov 68); Dzagoev (A Berezutskiy 83), Kerzhakov (Pogrebnyak 80), Arshavin.

Ref -- K Blom (Netherlands).