11.10.2003 at 00:00 St Jakob Stadium, Basel
2 - 0
Republic of Ireland
Referee: Anders Frisk (Sweden)
European Cup Qualifier-match
Switzerland 2 Ireland 0
There was much to admire in Switzerland’s demolition of Ireland’s faint hopes of European Championship qualification before 31,000 fans in Basel but nobody could have anticipated the lengths to which Ireland went to facilitate that success.
The sight of the delighted Swiss celebrating their victory with their exultant fans only served to heighten frustration at an Irish performance that was so lacking in imagination and a communal sense of determination that it was dis-spiriting to watch.
This was so out of character for Ireland and for this group of players that one wondered whether the virus that had struck Brian Kerr and Matt Holland early in the week had infected all with a timidity that jarred the senses.
To suggest that Ireland were desultory in their approach to the game is an understatement. They began as if their intention was to slow the pace of the game and to attempt to frustrate Switzerland by concentrating on depressing the mood of the contest.
Whether this interpretation was accurate or not was immaterial. Ireland gifted Switzerland a lead goal as early as the sixth minute, to Hakan Yakin, and events proved their task was hopeless from then on.
It was easy to identify individual mistakes, like that of John O’Shea for the opening goal, as reasons why Ireland were undone but it was the consistency with which Ireland lapsed into error in all areas that puzzled most of all.
There was no doubt Switzerland perceived Ireland as a threat but their manner of dealing with that spoke volumes for their professionalism. For the Swiss remained faithful to the meticulous detail of their game-plan.
They countered every Irish initiative with a certainty that reflected thorough preparation.
Nowhere was this more obvious than in their policing of Kevin Kilbane. The big winger is invariably Shay Given’s escape route, the man he seeks when launching his clearances.
Kilbane’s strength in the air is an invaluable asset to Ireland when they look to break out of defence. His physique means he is not easily knocked off the ball and his success in helping on Given’s clearances is an important influence on the flow of the game.
Switzerland ruthlessly stamped out the possibility of Ireland developing this route with dogged persistence. Full-back Haas and right-winger Huggel were both physically a match for Kilbane and they operated so closely in tandem that the Everton man scarcely won a single header.
It is worth detailing this element of the game because it was symptomatic of what occurred in all areas. Switzerland’s overall security was built on the implementation of such individual sub-plots, each devised specifically to counter the particular strengths of the Irish players.
Their containment of Damien Duff was another case in point. It is true that Duff would not be subdued, his marvellous ability ensuring that he was capable of disrupting their counter plans.
But they doubled-teamed him with dogged persistence; full-back Spycher and the impressive Wicky attempting to isolate him in wide positions. Duff was never fazed by these tactics and always looked the class act we know he is, but they prevented him from infiltrating their defensive lines sufficiently to trouble goalkeeper Stiel.
Switzerland’s second goal, driven in by Frei in the 61st minute settled any doubts. Chapuisat’s powerful header from Wicky’s excellent cross provoked a sharp save from Given but was so sudden the goalkeeper could not smother the ball. While Given’s fellow defenders dithered, Frei struck instantly.
So Ireland went out with a whimper and while manager Brian Kerr insisted there were positives to take from the game it was difficult to identify any.
You have to go back many years, perhaps as far back as April ’97 and a dreadful evening in Skopje when Ireland slumped to defeat to Macedonia, for a performance that was so uncharacteristic and so disappointing as to find its way into the folklore of the Irish game.
Switzerland (4-3-1-2): Stiel; Haas, Murat Yakin, Muller, Spycher; Huggel, Vogel, Wicky; Hakan Yakin (Celestini 55); Frei (Henchoz 88), Chapuisat (Streller 68).
Ireland (4-4-2): Given; Carr, Breen, O’Shea, Harte; Duff, Holland (Kinsella 74), Healy, Kilbane (Finnan 74); Connolly (Morrison 58), Keane.
Referee: Mr A. Frisk (Sweden).