07.09.2002 at 00:00 Moscow
4 - 2
Republic of Ireland
Referee: C Colombo (France)
European Cup Qualifier / Prog-match
Jason Mc Ateer
Russia 4,Ireland 2
A salutary lesson this for Ireland; disappointing only because it was so predictable. Ireland, riding high on the bravado of a good World Cup, were outplayed at the Lokomotiv Stadium by a new Russia fighting hard to attain the admirable standards of old.
Russia included only three who started in the World Cup and failed to ascend to a level that was remarkable in an overall sense - they conceded two goals after all. But they attacked with verve, with urgency and with rare penetration. Four goals was evidence of that.
Yet it was important to emphasise their generous return owed as much to Ireland’s capacity to lapse into error as to their own attacking excellence. Ireland blundered repeatedly to produce a maladroit performance in a contest enjoined in a manner that was uncharacteristically cavalier.
This contention applied more to Ireland than it did Russia. After all Ireland never before conceded as many as four goals in Mick McCarthy’s reign and this defence has coped in some style with more pressurised situations than this - Iran in Tehran, Portugal in Lisbon, are outstanding examples.
So what went wrong? What strange potion was consumed so Ireland’s concentration was diluted, their application weakened? Suggestions that Ireland were in danger of succumbing to the worst influences of a successful World Cup were dismissed by McCarthy and captain Kenny Cunningham in forceful and persuasive terms. But on this evidence, a case could be most definitely be made.
Within four minutes of kick-off two Irish defenders - Steve Finnan and Shay Given had been caught in possession happily not a habit of theirs. Within another seven minutes Russia broke at pace and with conviction from defending a corner kick and who rescued Ireland by chasing to his own penalty area to make an interception but Damien Duff; hardly part of his brief.
Ireland have forged a formidable reputation on the back of their industry, their team-work, their efficiency. At their best they are so well drilled they obviously share an understanding of their individual and collective roles. They are an extremely compact unit.
Not so here. They were totally positive in their approach and it was no coincidence that they were close to claiming the first goal of the game when Duff’s shot deflected off Ian Harte to go over off Russia’s crossbar after just 14 minutes. Kariaka’s opening goal, six minutes later, was against the run of play.
This fact identified a mind-set that possibly spoke volumes for Ireland’s attitude. This was an Irish team ’gung-ho’ in pursuit of victory, chasing goals with an abandon that could only have been drawn from super confidence. Perhaps in spite of McCarthy’s and Cunningham’s best intentions, a World Cup exuberance infected Irish minds, unconsciously caused them to forget first principles - which must be not to concede, especially away.
The consequences were not productive. Ireland’s team-work was fragmented, the balance within the formation upset, their defence vulnerable in consequence. The game opened at a frenzied pace and Russia’s lead goal from Kariaka after 20 minutes only fed that frenzy still more.
There is an old adage in football that first you win the battle, then you play your football. Ireland attempted to match Russia for pace and aggression when they might have done better early on to have concentrated on retaining possession and dampening down the pace.
The loss of Duff through injury so early was not a help, of course. And they failed to score even though they had as many early chances as had Russia - Harte might have put away a header before Russia’s second in the 24th minute from Beschastnykh. But with McAteer and Kilbane playing as wingers rather than midfielders, Ireland were over-run as Russia flooded midfield and punished an exposed defence, particularly the two full-backs.
The first twenty minutes of the second half saw a vast improvement in the level of Ireland’s play. They retained the ball more effectively, showed patience in their build-up and systematically applied pressure right across the Russian defence. This was Ireland in World Cup mode - focused, disciplined and calculated in their work.
They were driven on by an inspired Robbie Keane in the unusual role of provider. Whether the use of Ireland’s best striker in this role was in Ireland’s best interests was open to question but debate of that issue will have to wait for another day. He forced the corner that enabled Gary Doherty bring Ireland back into it with a headed goal after 69 minutes.
Sadly for Ireland the benefits of this laudable come-back were negatived when Cunningham mis-judged a cross and Kerzhakov capitalised within another two minutes and the game was lost. Clinton Morrison showed Ireland’s undoubted spirit by snatching a goal in the 76th minute but Russia caused no surprise when they turned over possession to force an own goal from Phil Babb in the 87th minute.
McCarthy described it as a bad day at the office. That was an understatement as Ireland’s poor passing was and their lack of ball retention cost them dearly. Yet if it has succeeded in erasing thoughts of World Cup from Irish minds and illustrated the necessity to stick to first principles then it may prove to be that welcome interloper - a blessing in disguise.
RUSSIA (3-5-2); Ovchinnikov; Ignashevitch, Onopko, Nizhegorodov; Gusev (Solomatin 29) , Loskov, Aldonin, Yanovsky, Kariaka; Beschastnykn (Kerzhakov 46), Semak (Khokhlov 65).
IRELAND (4-4-2): Given; Finnan, Breen, Cunningham, Harte; McAteer (Doherty 65), Holland, Kinsella, Kilbane (Babb 85); Robbie Keane, Duff (Morrison 17).
Referee: C. Colombo (France).
Mick Mc Carthy's prediction on Friday that the Roy Keane issue would pursue him throughout his career inevitably proved accurate as journalists reacted to the negative result of the match against Russia by immediately re-opening the issue.
The Irish team manager showed remarkable restraint when a Russian journalist waved a notebook in his face as he posed the question in the immediate post-match interview room. And he spoke at greater length when the issue was re-visited on the return from Moscow last night.
McCarthy made the very logical observation that even if Keane had been available, he may have been prevented from playing by his injury.
However, that was merely academic given recent events.
He told one journalist: “He’s got a hip injury, he’s out with that. He (Keane) has said he is not going to play, it’s not going to change, that situation. I think you know that better than I, you talk to him on a regular basis.
“Why don’t you go and chat to Roy, that’s not for me, that’s not for me,” said McCarthy. “I think the situation is far beyond repair.
“The guy you chat to on a regular basis has told you that, he’s told everybody that, and it’s not going to make it any different. I’m getting on with the team I’ve got. These are the lads I’m concerned about, not anybody who’s not going to play.”
A further question on the subject brought the interview to a sudden close, when another journalist asked: “Would it not be worth one final try on your part?”
McCarthy said: “I’m not even going to go down that road, I’m not going to. Do you think it’s ... look, I’m done guys. Thanks for your time.”
FAI General Secretary Brendan Menton was later asked whether the Association might not attempt to broker a peace and he said: “Nothing has changed. The official line of the Association all along is that we are backing Mick McCarthy’s management and we still do. The manager picks the team and we totally back him and totally back his judgement in this situation. Football matters belong with the manager.
“There were a number of communications (between various parties) and I think Mick has told you what Roy has said and that’s the situation.”
The manager reviewed Saturday’s defeat by saying: “It’s the first bad day we’ve had at the office in a long, long time and I’m not on about the goals, I’m talking of being beaten and the way we feel because of that.
“You have to try and look on the positive side but we were always going to have one bad day and it is unfortunate it should have come in Moscow.
THE FAI will pursue at diplomatic and UEFA level the issue of violence towards visiting supporters in Moscow where some Irish fans were seriously hurt prior to the European Championship tie against Russia.
FAI general secretary, Brendan Menton, said he had officially lodged a complaint with the UEFA observer prior to the match after receiving reports of attacks on Irish supporters on Moscow streets on Friday.
He said he had yet to receive details of a major assault on the Irish that left at least one Irish supporter seriously ill in hospital with head wounds shortly before Saturday’s match.
Said Mr Menton: “I also made a report to the Irish Ambassador in Moscow after Friday nights’ incidents and he was actively involved in bringing them to the attention of the Moscow authorities. We formally reported our dissatisfaction to the UEFA observer at the technical meeting prior to the game on Saturday.
“It is worrying to learn that other Irish supporters were hurt shortly before kick-off in an incident on the Moscow streets and when I get more details I will forward them to the UEFA delegate tomorrow (Monday).
“This is disturbing to us because everyone knows how well behaved the Irish supporters always are and I know the UEFA delegate is taking the issue very seriously. It is the first time our supporters have been treated like this.
“The reports we received were that the Friday incidents happened in the view of some Moscow police who didn’t seem to take any action. The Irish Embassy made sure those hurt were taken to a western clinic and received proper treatment.
“Unfortunately I do not know what UEFA can do because the incidents occurred away from the football stadium and nobody knows who the perpetrators were. It is very difficult to know what follow-up action can take place.
“The welfare of our supporters is very important to us and we will pursue this as far as we can. As you saw, the supporters at the match behaved impeccably as usual in difficult circumstances on the pitch and off.”
The kick-off of the match was delayed for almost ten minutes after the FAI had brought the attention of the UEFA delegate to the difficulty the Irish supporters had in gaining access to the stadium. The FAI insisted the match be delayed despite pressure from TV companies and all the Irish - perhaps as many as 4,000 - were in place for kick-off.
The authorities had difficulty in organising the fans because the Lokomotiv Stadium is new and this was the first major match to be staged there. Although the attendance was well below the 35,000 capacity - at an estimated 22,000 - teething problems were exaggerated by the authorities determination to keep the opposing fans separated.
“In fairness the authorities were determined to ensure the safety of the Irish fans and went to great pains to keep them apart” said Mr. Menton. “The operation was much too slow, however, and we insisted that the UEFA observer was kept fully up to date with everything that happened.”
It was clear the Moscow football authorities were much more concerned about protecting the welfare of the Irish at the stadium than were the civic authorities.
There were many reports of Irish supporters being stopped in the streets late at night by personnel in police or army uniforms demanding the production of passports initially and then demanding money from them.