Sport Soccer

Sunday 18 February 2018

Traps men avoid slip-up on the slopes

The show goes on to the familiar territory of play-off pantomime

Postcard from the edge of a mountain.

In Europe's highest capital, a postage stamp of rutted green. Normally, they have little to worry about in this vertiginous village of tax exiles, where life expectancy is amongst the world's highest.

There is little to do here except shop and ski. Social unrest is rare; no unions are allowed to form and there is no left-of-centre party. The ASTI would be an anachronistic acronym around these parts.

And yet outside, a ring of steel belies this country's status as one of the most peaceful on earth.

Roadblocks bookend both ends of the main road outside the stadium, police man the hedgerows overlooking the Irish bench.

This country has no defence forces and no army but tonight the security is stronger than outside a UN debate on Palestine.

In the VIP section, a lucky Irish supporter clad in garish green had been allocated one of the 12 tickets made available in an impromptu raffle in the Irish team hotel overseen by FAI chief executive John Delaney.

As the local nabobs wade in to remove him on account of his inappropriate dress, an FAI official is called upon to vouch for the Irishman's incongruous presence amongst the bigwigs.

He would have had little complaints had he pitched up in the press box, where the dress code is informal, to say the very least.

Those 12 fans were the only Irish people desperate for a draw yesterday. But then rumours circulated that the Andorran FA would be releasing about 150 extra tickets at 5.0pm local time.

Two hours later, the boisterous 150 fans who had been resigned to watching the match even further up a mountain waddle into the stadium like an emerald collection of adult Charlie Buckets, their golden tickets secured.

Delaney is holed up about seven kilometres away with several busloads of Irish supporters watching the affair on Sky Sports.

He had promised to watch the game in Barcelona, where he had spent the previous two days in the bosom of his grassroots. He does arrive for the last four minutes. We must suppose that this was the next best thing.

The teams emerge from a dwelling more akin to that deployed for an intermediate championship match to thunderous acclaim from Ireland's loyal support and stoic indifference from the locals.


Shay Given has some corrective tape applied to a wrist damaged in the warm-up; problems now affect both of his hands but, one suspects, this should be a night when his most taxing engagement will be to turn on the shower.

Ireland create three chances in the opening two minutes. They miss all three. "It's going to be one of those days," mutters somebody. Darren O'Dea slices aimlessly behind for an Andorran corner.

The local hacks breathlessly mark down the time. Ye Gods, a corner!

In the next breath, a game of ping-pong in the Andorran penalty area. This is not their speciality, despite their exhaustive experience of such things.

Kevin Doyle dutifully becomes both Andorra's best defender, blocking Robbie Keane's shot, before scoring himself with a sublime finish from several inches.

It is Doyle's second goal of the campaign, both notched against Andorra.

He'd love to play them every week.

Emili Garcia retorts with a forward run from a free-kick to show that in the status of being unruffled, they are world champions. He ghosts behind Stephen Ward but balloons a header above Shay Given's head.

Normally, these guys need to surrender their passports before crossing the half-way line.

The Donegal man's exhortations are easily decipherable in the press box, albeit his ear-piercing squeals are almost at a timbre that can be only recognised by the assembled police canines.

The locals try a clever ruse -- proceedings are delayed when a rupture in Josep Gomes' net is spotted. The two minutes of jollity numb the pain of watching a farcical enterprise in competitive sport.

Ireland double their advantage in the 20th minute with a free-kick routine straight from the training ground. The U-8s training ground, we suspect.

At a thousand metres above sea level, we didn't expect the locals to suffer from altitude sickness.

But for some reason, Cristiano Martinez leaves Aiden McGeady in splendid isolation on the left side of the penalty area. As 362 Irish fans scream "Give it to Aiden for f*** sake." Glen Whelan does precisely that.

The Irish winger gives the home side a sporting chance by applying a touch more redolent of the opposition ping-pong merchants, fails to find the gaping space to the right of the goalkeeper yet still scores anyway.

Ildefons Lima, his country's record goalscorer (seven) has helped to deflect the ball into the net. Lima scored in a matter of minutes when Andorra played in Dublin before Ireland qualified for the 2002 World Cup.

Revenge is a dish served with chilling disdain for the small fish.

Almost coincidentally, Russia score in Slovakia, all of which means that a draw on Tuesday will plunge Ireland headlong into the familiar uncertainty and chaos of play-off palaver.

As far as this meaningless exercise is concerned, a certain sobriety is induced when one assesses the raft of Irish players -- seven -- included in the squad who are walking the dreaded path of yellow peril.

With Armenia suddenly emerging as the form team in Europe -- along with Spain, Germany and Holland, they have scored three or more goals in their last three qualifiers -- the play-offs are not a guaranteed destination for Ireland's players.

And so Stephen Ward simulates a desperate attempt to extract a penalty, for which he is promptly booked; on the bench, Giovanni Trapattoni splutters a confection of muttered expletives.

Secure in their advantage, a lax attitude supplants the opening quarter of verve and application; passes are mis-placed amidst the dwindling desire to inure themselves against a shock.

Andorra are a proud nation and keep plugging away; they did, after all, declare war on Germany in 1917, an act not rescinded for some 40 years.

The second-half is an endeavour in excising boredom. We start wondering whether Wayne Rooney's dad had a bet on his red card and such.

Robbie Keane, perhaps finding this a step up in class from the level in which he currently operates, almost scores a third then blazes over.

A wild clearance is controlled expertly by an Irish journalist; the Andorran manager resists the urge to ask him to warm up. The show moves on.

Tuesday may not be the last act.

Irish Independent

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