28.04.2004 at 20:00 Stadion Zawiszy, Bydgoszcz
0 - 0
Republic of Ireland
Referee: Mr S Shebek (Ukraine)
Poland 0 Ireland 0
Ireland overcame the difficulties of coping with a bumpy pitch and a physically powerful Poland with relative ease in a contest that rarely threatened to engender any real excitement in the Stadion Zawiszy.
Ireland's experimental team countered Poland with calm assurance to maintain an extraordinary run in friendly matches under Brian Kerr's reign. This draw enabled the Republic to extend their unbeaten run to seven such matches.
The game was largely an uneventful contest, before fans in holiday mood last night, and this suited Ireland admirably. The festive feeling that pervaded the stadium was enriched by the pre-match ceremony.
The home fans among an estimated crowd of 15,000 responded to the opening bars of the Irish National Anthem by hoisting colour cards to make up the tricolour.
In the circumstances it was, perhaps, no surprise that the opening half was low-key and lacked competitiveness. The match had all the frenzy of a stroll in the park a fitting analogy given that the playing surface had such a lush covering of grass that was more characteristic of a meadow than a pitch.
Poland's formation was interesting and it facilitated their comfortable control of the trend and the pace.
Lewandowski played very deep in central midfield, just in front of the centre-backs, and with Szymkowiak a resourceful force just in front and to his right and Mila in lively form on his left, they effectively smothered Ireland's midfield.
Mark Kinsella played superbly in the withdrawn role for Ireland, but with Steven Reid and Andy Reid in the wide positions the set-up meant the Liam Miller was too often left isolated between the three.
He was always calm and constructive in possession, but it was not until the flank players tucked in from the start of the second half that he was given the support he needed to challenge Poland's control.
The effect of pulling the two Reids into more central positions more regularly was seen to good effect almost immediately.
Twice Andy Reid nominally Ireland's left-winger popped up on the right-hand side of the penalty area for shots in the first 20 minutes of the second half. They were unproductive but indicative of more fluent Irish team play.
Ireland's changed formation meant they were a more concentrated and cohesive force where the pattern of the contest was fashioned. They enjoyed a greater share of possession in consequence and there was a smooth and rhythmical tempo to their work that had been lacking earlier.
Ireland were also much more secure defensively and although Poland stepped up the pace of the game considerably, they seldom penetrated. It was not until substitute Kosowski twice skinned another substitute, full-back Alan Maybury, in the dying moments that Ireland looked in any way vulnerable.
By then, of course, both teams had undergone so many changes that the team selections were scarcely recognisable from those that had started the game. But Ireland kept the core of the team intact and it was these players who emerged with most credit from a low-key affair.
John O'Shea was elegantly assertive throughout and, with team captain Kenny Cunningham contributing another performance of total effectiveness, there was a pleasing balance to an Irish defence that owed much to the confident play also of Ian Harte and Gary Doherty.
Kinsella was Ireland's top player, with Andy Reid once again bubbling effervescently with energy whenever he was in possession. His particular physical make-up and versatile passing ability again suggested that he is more suited to a play-making role in the centre rather than that of an orthodox winger.
He needs, however, to quicken his decision-making but to go from the second division to international level is a quantum leap in many respects. He certainly showed that, given time and opportunity, his rich potential will blossom effectively.
Miller was more subdued but again there was ample evidence of the riches that are just beneath the surface.
His contribution must be measured against the fact that a match against Hearts last weekend was his first full 90 minutes since December. Even so, he had the composure to play the game at his pace and the awareness to contribute effectively to Ireland's more smooth teamwork in the second half.
Overall then the exercise was a very positive one for Brian Kerr even if the level of entertainment was unexceptional.
Ireland dealt comprehensively with the challenge mounted by a Polish team that enjoyed noisy and encouraging support from their enthusiastic fans and Kerr took the opportunity to extend the pool of players before next the World Cup qualifiers.
Jonathan Douglas of Blackburn Rovers and Jason Byrne of Shelbourne were given an introduction to the international game and goalkeeper Nicky Colgan saw 20 minutes of action that elevated him above the competition for the reserve keeper's spot.
These players will be given further encouragement when Ireland play Nigeria and Jamaica in London on May 29 and June 2.
POLAND (4-1-4-1): Dudek (Boruc 59); Zewlakow (Kaczorowski 84), Klos (Bosacki 80), Glowacki (Hajto 46), Rzasa; Lewandowski; Zurawski, Szymkowiak (Radomski 85), Mila (Smolarek 66), Krzynowek (Kosowski 46); Olisadebe (Niedzielan 46).
IRELAND (4-4-2): Given (Colgan 70); O'Shea , Doherty (O'Brien 80), Cunnngham, Harte (Maybury 64); Steven Reid, Miller, Kinsella, Andy Reid (Douglas 80); Morrison (Byrne 90), Lee (Barrett 64).
Referee: Mr S Shebek (Ukraine).
The Republic of Ireland players admitted that the game may not have been the most entertaining, but was ideal preparation for the big tests to come in the World Cup qualifiers. The majority of players referred to the game as “competitive” suggesting how tough a match it was and all were delighted to have helped Ireland earn a draw at such a difficult venue.
Gary Doherty said: “It might not have been the prettiest game to watch but it was a very tough game to play in.
“Myself and Kenny have now played two games in a row together and it was nice to keep the clean sheet. They never really threatened us.”
Steven Reid, playing his first 90 minutes in five months, was also thrilled. “It may not have been the greatest game in the world for the fans, but coming to places like this without 10 key players is always going to be difficult.
“It was a very young team but we still ground out a clean sheet, which is pleasing. We’ve now had three games and have got good results in them all.
“I think that this should help us quite a lot when we go to France and Switzerland in the qualifiers.”
Midfielder Mark Kinsella also felt that it was ideal preparation for the World Cup qualifiers.
“If that was a competitive game, we would have been battered. We were up against 14 men and a dodgy pitch.
“It’s great preparation for the World Cup qualifiers.”