Ireland turn in a turgid performance that sees them denied by a Polish side who were themselves riddled by nerves.
This was a desperately disappointing night in Warsaw as Ireland’s chance of automatic qualification was foiled by a nervous Polish side. Ireland needed to win or draw on a scoreline of 2-2 or better to progress to France straight away. With the play-off possibilities not looking particularly enticing at this moment in time, given the big nations struggling to qualify, Ireland might look back on this game as one that got away.
Huff and puff
Early doors it was chaotic, much like the Scotland away game, with little in the form of structured play from either side. Ireland sported five changes from the team that started against Germany with Glenn Whelan in place of the majestic Wes Hoolahan being the most puzzling.
With so much on the line it was obvious that the occasion got to many of the players on both sides. For the first half an hour there were countless mistakes, frenetic play and ferocious tackling that came close to providing a thrilling contest, albeit one that was surely a little sore on the eyes of football purists.
In truth amongst all the hubbub Poland began to make inroads quite early, with most of their forays into the Irish half intent on picking out their star striker Robert Lewandowski. The opening goal came from one of his teammates however, when a well work move inside the box saw Grzegorz Krychowiak completely free with his shot squirting between a forest of Irish and Polish legs to the Irish net with Darren Randolph left flat-footed.
With that the roof lifted thanks to the ecstatic home crowd and so it came as some surprise that the Irish response arrived so quickly, 3 minutes later in fact. Shane Long had been enjoying a lively opening and his bravery on the verge of the 18-yard box saw him take an errand Polish boot to the head. Without hesitation the ref pointed to the spot, which Jon Walters confidently dispatched. We were half way there to the promised land of 2-2!
Sadly by half time Ireland were undone by Poland’s supremely confident (if ever so willing to go to ground at the merest of touches) Lewandowski. His 41st minute goal was a defensive howler from an Irish perspective as he was able to power his header from near the edge of the box without distraction from a green shirt. In the context however a 1-1 or a 2-1 meant exactly the same thing to Ireland as another goal meant we would be on our way to France and Euro 2016.
Keogh so close
In a second half of equally ragged drama Poland grew increasingly nervous, at one point making for the corner flag to kill time with over 10 minutes remaining! As you’d expect, from a team with a reputation for salvation at the death, Ireland did carve out a very decent chance when substitute Aiden McGeady floated a perfect cross for the unmarked Richard Keogh and while his header had power it was directed straight at Fabianksi in goals.
Poland had plenty opportunities themselves in the second period to cement their win but a last ditch tackle by Coleman and an impressive block from Randolph kept the Irish in it. At the other end only a 20-yard pile driver from Whelan did anything to unsettle the Polish keeper.
In spite of the historic victory against Germany a few days earlier the Irish side toiled rather than crafted throughout this game. Martin O’Neill admitted afterwards that Hoolahan had admitted that he would not been able for two games in such a short space of time but Whelan’s reappearance also coincided with a huge drop in productively from one of the heroes of the Germany game James McCarthy.
In truth there were disappointing Irish performances all over the pitch with Robbie Brady incapable of delivering a single effective cross or set-piece. James McClean certainly had the fury and intensity for the occasion but completely lacked focus and was an accident waiting to happen. John O’Shea was similarly intent on getting sent off long before it actually happened in injury time as he continually mauled Lewandowski inside the Irish box. That we avoided conceding a penalty from his persistent tugs was a minor miracle in itself.
On a very lean plus side it was refreshing to see Seamus Coleman performing well though it must be asked if both he and Cyrus Christie could have been accommodated down the left. Shane Long also showed us what we’re missing when he’s not in the first 11. Sadly his ankle injury 10 minutes into the second half means he could be a doubt for the playoff’s in November.
All told this was a disappointing end to what has been a quite incredible qualifying group, which has been full of twists and turns and last minute drama. Ireland have not been particularly consistent with only the German game showing us what a fully functioning green unit can achieve. That that was achieved just last week must give us hope that we can summon those spirits again for the challenge that lies ahead in the make or break games to come.
Poland: Lukasz Fabianski, Lukasz Piszczek, Kamil Glik, Michal Pazdan, Jakub Wawrzyniak, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Karol Linetty, Krzysztof Maczynski (Lukasz Szukala 78 mins), Pawell Olkowski (Jakub Blaszczykowski 63 mins), Kamil Grosicki (Slawomir Peszko 85 mins), Robert Lewandowski (capt).
Republic of Ireland: Darren Randolph, Seamus Coleman, John O’Shea (capt), Richard Keogh, Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick, James McCarthy, Glenn Whelan (Aiden McGeady 58 mins), James McClean (Wes Hoolahan 73 mins), Jonathan Walters, Shane Long (Robbie Keane 55 mins).
- Author: Kevin Dunphy