25.04.2001 at 00:00 Lansdowne Road
Republic of Ireland
3 - 1
Referee: Kristinn Jakobsson
World Cup Qualifier / Prog-match
Ireland 3 Andorra 1
The wake-up call that came in the form of a shock goal to Andorra 32 minutes into the World Cup qualifying tie at Lansdowne Road last night was not before time.It jarred Ireland into wide-awake awareness of what was needed to overcome limited but obstinate opponents in a low-key contest that yielded another precious dividend in the form of three points.
Ireland responded with energy and determination and eventually ran out comfortable winners. There was never any likelihood of any other conclusion to a match that was, nevertheless, a useful exercise ahead of the more demanding tests that bar the road to next year's finals.
Ireland were only too well aware of Andorra's modest ambitions after their recent experiences against these same opponents in Barcelona. Unfortunately the sense of superiority that was the inevitable off-shoot of this knowledge fostered bad habits in the Irish camp and they took a long time to appreciate just how sizeable an investment was needed to produce the required result.
It is easy to criticise Andorra for lacking ambition, but it is desirable also acknowledge just how comprehensive was their defensive planning, just how committed they were to denying Ireland the space and the opportunity to plunder the goals they needed.
Andorra were never too embarrassed to pull all 11 players into their own penalty area with the result that there were so many defensive custodians in the box clad in the Andorra uniform that it looked as if they had constructed a redwood forest.
Three towering centre-backs confirmed this impression and this trio, Lldefons Lima, Toni Lima and Jonas, grew strong and more authoritative with time.
The goal-scorer, Lldefons Lima, was especially effective and a difficult opponent for he was not reluctant to operate on the outer extremity of what the laws allowed and the diminutive Connolly especially suffered at his hands.
But Ireland did not help their cause by their approach. For too much of the game Ireland played at too relaxed a pace and the service to the centre-forwards left much to be desired. Too often the crosses were delivered from withdrawn positions so the defenders could cope without having to take their eyes off their immediate opponents.
Ireland did not persist often enough in seeking the bye-line before delivering the ball to turn the defenders, but Andorra defended so deeply that there was precious little space behind their defensive line. In any case it is the English concept to put the ball in the box early and while Gary Doherty battled with a will to try and convert it into something tangible, one longed for the more formidable presence of the injured Niall Quinn.
Happily Ireland stepped up their game in the second half when the tempo was maintained at a sufficiently high level to stretch Andorra and provide a more searching examination of their levels of fitness. Ireland's work-rate was top-class.
A superb example was set by the acting team captain, Gary Breen, who spent almost as much time in his opponents' penalty area as either of the two strikers. Breen capped a superb performance with Ireland's third goal after 76 minutes and it was taken with the calm assurance that marked his work on the night.
A free from the left wing by Harte caused 'keeper Sanchez problems. He had to stretch across players to get a punch on the ball, but then was helpless on the floor when Breen pulled down the deflection and drilled the ball in from 12 yards.
Clearly a 3-1 winning margin was not enough to reflect the gap between the teams. Andorra were always concentrated on maintaining their defensive formation and the pressure of numbers in the middle meant their wide players, Escura and Luena, could sit tightly on Ireland's wingers, Kilbane and Kennedy.
So Ireland played much of their football in front of Andorra's last line of defence and the game was sinking into an abyss of boredom when Andorra shocked Ireland with an opening goal in their second attack of the game. Lldefons Lima beat Given with a glancing header from Ruiz's right-wing free after 32 minutes.
Ireland's response was impressive for Kilbane sprinted onto a deflected header from Doherty within two minutes and ripped a low shot inside the near upright.
Ireland were in front after 36 minutes when Kelly and Breen combined to release Kennedy for a cross which Doherty headed against the crossbar and Kinsella power the rebound home with some glee.
So Mick McCarthy's gamble in operating without the players on yellow cards - Robbie Keane, Jason McAteer and Kenny Cunningham - paid off. And the manner in which Ireland played their most effective football in the closing quarter as the pace finally took a toll of Andorra's energy will surely have driven home the level of risk they ran by their over-relaxed approach early in the game.