Ireland rescue Swiss point to pile on Euro 2020 qualifying pressure


Ireland’s qualifying campaign for Euro 2020 still felt, early on Thursday night, like the start of a new era.

Republic of Ireland 1

Switzerland 1

The crowds were trickling into the glistening bedpan of the Aviva Stadium, as much in hope as expectation, as the boys in green looked to secure, through Euro 2020 qualification, what would be a first ever home game in the post-qualifying stages of a major football competition.

Mick McCarthy’s charges had been drawing a mixed reaction since the once overwhelmingly popular coach returned to the national helm. Ireland are clearly not of the quality of the teams of old, the ones that shocked Italy and England in major tournaments, their fans traipsing the globe in a fog of beer and joyous partying. But – whisper it – McCarthy’s slightly lumbering, blunt outfit were starting to get results.

Sure, dismissing the casual-weekend footballers of Gibraltar home and away and narrowly getting the better of an uninspired Georgia at home was nothing much to get overly vocal out. Drawing away at Denmark, though, was definitely punching a little. With the group’s top seed Switzerland in town, Ireland were guaranteed to still top the group come full time, but grabbing any kind of result had to be seen as a real opportunity to make it stick.

The crowd and the team, consequently, were up for it, inspired, not least, by some less than kind remarks by Swiss coach Vladimir Petković in the build up. The visiting boss had described the Irish team as somewhat industrial, riling the hosts.

He’s right, as it happens, but rarely does that matter when it comes to sporting resentment. The absence of one of the visitor’s key playmakers Xherdan Shaqiri – who had chosen to focus on club football – offered a major bonus. For Ireland, this was the land of opportunity.

The home team started well. They won a corner within the opening seconds, and 15 minutes in created a solid chance in a bitty game, as James McClean broke free in the area but was unable to get a shot away under pressure from the Swiss defence. The Swiss were finding space early on, but lacking a final ball, with the pacey Breel Embolo looking the major threat.

Early on, though, the game was wide open, with both sides finding heaps of space to exploit as tackles flew in. Enda Stevens – making a nervous start – soon found himself in the book, and an industrial slide from Glenn Whelan gave the Swiss a chance to fire on goal from distance. For a phase, with the Swiss dominating the ball, the home crowd were left with little more to cheer than their weak finishing.

While Ireland were beginning to cling on towards the end of the first half, however, they looked dangerous on the break. A brilliant Randolph save from Seferovic – flagged offside incorrectly, the ball having come off an Irish defender – was the best Swiss chance. The home side nearly had the last laugh, though, as David McGoldrick beat his man on the break, charged into the box and just failed to connect with strike partner Callum Robinson six-yards out.

The second half started similarly: lots of midfield play, little consistent possession, and a light edge to proceedings. The Swiss dominated for a period, but Duffy and Coleman in particular can be a formidable blockade, and little came of long periods of advanced possession. Embolo’s wild failure to do more than scuff the ball whilst through on goal – though at a wide angle – pretty much summed up a period of atrocious finishing from the visitors.

With less than 20 minutes left on the clock, though, the superiority of the Swiss finally told, coming from a somewhat innocuous attack. A one two on the edge of the Ireland box played in attack-minded defender Fabien Schar, who’d earlier charged out of the backline to shoot from 40-yards out. He was composed in knocking the ball past Randolph through a sea of legs.

Forced to attack, Ireland looked a little stronger, occasionally threatening to burst in on the Swiss goal down the right wing in particular. The Swiss goal, it seemed, was the kick they needed. 

After a string of messy attacks, finally, Ireland made it count. Glenn Whelan absolutely pulverised the crossbar from 20-yards out, and the resulting scramble around the edge of the box ended with a ball into McGoldrick, who headed into the corner from six-yards.

It could scarcely have happened to someone more deserving: McGoldrick is a tireless runner, a man of solid but unexceptional ability who invariably looks his absolute best in green. This marked his first international goal, and was subbed in injury time to a raucous standing ovation as Ireland, ultimately comfortably, hung on.

McCarthy’s less-than-pretty Irish revolution might yet bear fruit, and if it comes in the form of a place at Euro 2020 next summer, it’d mean the biggest footballing party in Ireland this century. It was clear to the entire Aviva Stadium that attacking suited this side better, and it took going behind to do it. There were lessons to be learnt, but they can wait for the morning. All to play for, but it’ll be a tough, tough road.

Team Lineups

Ireland –  Randolph; Coleman (c), Duffy, Keogh, Stevens; Hendrick, Whelan, Hourihane (Hogan 82′), McClean; McGoldrick (Browne 90′), Robinson (Judge 58′)

Switzerland – Sommer; Schar, Akanji, Elvedi, Rodriguez; Xhaka (c), Zakaria, Mbabu, Freuler (Mehmedi 90′), Embolo; (Ajeti 86′), Seferovic



About Author

Comments are closed.