State of Play: Italy 0 Ireland 2

Póg Mo Goal’s no-holds-barred player ratings

A QUITE extraordinary night in Belgium and perhaps the first inclination that the squad Giovanni Trapattoni is moulding for Ireland may be on the cusp of big things. A second string side put a vastly superior Italian outfit to the sword and looked utterly composed in doing so. Yet, beyond all that, there may be a seed germinating in the mind of the manager that his previous first choice team may not be one to deliver the revolution he believes is possible. Like the friendly against Uruguay, this Irish team full of youth, hunger, commitment and confidence is much easier on the eye and perhaps contains some more capable of returning the Republic to the big time than others who have soldiered so far.

David Forde

An excellent performance from the goalkeeper. Forde was not overawed by the occasion of his first start and he was a rock between the posts. His fingertip save in the first half did his confidence a world of good and his bellowing commands could be heard thoughout. While Italy were poor in attack, Forde dealt with everything that came his way.

Paul McShane

A standout performance. Captain for the night, McShane was brilliant. Unlike some of the regulars in the defence, the right-back looked to play his way out of trouble. He was a leader throughout even berating his goalkeeper when he failed to come out and claim a ball in his area. McShane is answering some of his critics with a string of impressive displays for Ireland. On the highlights on TG4 Sean Ban Breathnach waxed lyrical during a sublime interplay between Coleman and McShane at the back, “Féach ar an scil.” Indeed.

Sean St Ledger

A tower of strength at the back even without an experienced head alongside him. Time and again he was getting his head and body in the way to repel Italian attacks. Along with O’Dea, the Irish backline hasn’t looked this composed in a long time. Granted Italy’s attack was reduced to pot shots but when they tried to play their way in behind the Irish defence, they could’nt breach the rear-guard.

Darren O’Dea

Outstanding. O’Dea is a shining example of why these friendlies are vital for fringe players to develop at international level. O’Dea’s recent showings coupled with this superb display mean he is a willing and able replacement for the games that matter. He barely put a foot wrong and looked more assured after a number of games now at the heart of the Irish defence. Hopefully he has raised the eyebrows of a few club managers, not least at Celtic.

Stephen Ward

Another fine performance from the international novice. Ward belies his lack of experience at this level and he offers a physical presence along the flank. With Hunt operating in front, the work-rate on Ireland’s left wing was unsurpassed. Ward sent Hunt away for the cross which resulted in Cox’s victory-sealing goal.

Seamus Coleman

Ireland found it difficult to play their way behind the Italian defence but they never stopped trying to do it. None more so than Coleman. Unlike our so-called first choice eleven who would simply fire ball after ball long over the top, Coleman and McShane played their way out of defence on every possible occasion. Coleman’s defensive contribution was immense but the heavily-soaked pitch meant he never got to attack the Italians at full throttle.

Keith Andrews

The Dubliner scooped the man-of-the-match award but before his stunning goal on 35 minutes, Andrew’s passing was pretty woeful. His scuppering of Italy’s counter-attacking was oustanding all night but Italy enjoyed the majority of possession for two reasons. They have better players and we kept giving the ball away and Andrews was one of the biggest culprits.

Kevin Foley

Trapattoni again deployed the Wolves player in the centre and he acquitted himself, showing for the ball and looking to spread it to the wings. Perhaps he doesn’t have the physical stature to throw his weight around in a defensive capacity but he contributed greatly to this young side’s endeavouring to play football as opposed to the caveman stuff our regulars can revert to.

Stephen Hunt

Head and shoulders above Andrews for the man-of-the-match award. Hunt was immense. Throwing his body on the line and looking to take on his man, Rambo, on form, is a pain in the backside to Ireland’s opponents. His cross for Cox’s goal was perfectly placed. A tour de force display and the talisman for a wonderful team effort. His charging body block on Italy’s late free-kick summed up his performance.

Shane Long

Perhaps a surprise that he was substituted before Keogh as Long looked the more threatening of the two up front. Pumping balls into the Italian area were pointless against the masters of defending but when Ireland tried to play in Long on the deck, he caused problems and had a chance early on but dragged his shot wide on his weaker side.

Andy Keogh

Keogh performed similarly to Long in that he looked to take on the opposition with the ball on the floor. It seemed to get caught under his feet an awful lot but the Italians had the knack of getting toe-pokes in at the right time. Keogh lacked pace but the heavy pitch contributed to that and he kept pressure on at every opportunity. A gutsy display.

Subs:

Glenn Whelan

Our defensive performance never waned when the Stoke man entered the fray and he had some nice touches to alleviate danger. But a snapshot of why he frustrates: With minutes remaining we put together our best move down the right flank. McShane and Coleman bombed down the wing. McShane did brilliantly to skin the full-back in the penalty area but his cut-back was cleared to Whelan on the edge of the box and his first touch was scandalous. Italy broke down the pitch but if that was Whelan attempts to track back at full-tilt, he has a serious lack of speed. He made it to Ireland’s box but he never picked up the free man to his right. The defence managed to cut it out and Whelan was able to bring it away. It was a an example of a lad being introduced off the bench but having zero freshness or bite when it was most needed. This is the reason so much of games can seem to pass him by.

Simon Cox

A dream start to his career in an Irish shirt. When Keogh was withdrawn for Treacy, Cox had to plough a lone furrow up front. He couldn’t have much impact against the Italian defence with Ireland sitting deeper and deeper to hold on to a 1-0 lead. And then Hunt broke down the left wing before firing a perfect ball across the face of goal and Cox flung himself at the ball to crash home and secure a famous win for Ireland. The striker whacked his leg off the post in the process but in a short period of time he has scored on his debut for Ireland and netted in a win against Italy. He continues to impress.

Keith Treacy

Added to shore up the midfield and provide an extra man in the middle, Treacy contributed to a team performance that was remarkably assured and lacked the nervousness and panic that has afflicted previous Irish sides under Trapattoni.

Stephen Kelly

Replaced the injured O’Dea late on and was guilty of a few clumsy challenges that gave Italy two free-kicks right on the edge of the Irish area. They didn’t have their shooting boots on and Kelly can be forgiven for being thrust in when Ireland were retreating to hold on to a slender advantage. Generally aided the defensive effort.

Damien Delaney

Made it onto the pitch in injury-time and, including having a few touches on the ball, he was part of a rare breed of Irish international squads, conquerors of Italy.

Conclusion:

Victory in the Nations Cup may prove to be a watershed moment for the spirit of this Irish side. In his post-match comments goal hero Keith Andrews said the atmosphere in the camp is phenomenal.

Make no mistake about it, beating Italy will have meant the world to Giovanni Trapattoni and Marco Tardelli. They have utter faith in the system they want Ireland to play. Suddenly, the management may also have much more belief in the capabilities of the players at their disposal.

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