02.09.2011 at 19:45 Aviva Stadium
Republic of Ireland
0 - 0
Referee: Pedro Proença (POR)
European Cup Qualifier / Prog-match
StattoKevin Kilbane has wished the Republic of Ireland the best of luck as he sits out his first competitive international since November 1999.
Republic of Ireland 0 - 0 Slovakia
The Republic of Ireland were forced to battle with sustained determination to keep their UEFA 2012 hopes alive at a tense and expectant Aviva Stadium. Slovakia offered a strong and capable challenge in a match that grew in intensity throughout the second half and had reason to be satisfied with a share of the points.
Ireland were left agonising over a couple of extraordinary missed opportunities late in the game, either of which might well have been enough to win a contest that was always absorbing. But so bravely did Slovakia dispute matters that any fair assessment of the contest suggested a drawn match was the correct outcome.l
The perceived wisdom before the match as expressed by from both camps was that this match would not be conclusive but the approach of both teams belied that. Safety-first was the watchword as both teams played ultra-cautiously with a heavy emphasis on eliminating risk.
Slovakia pulled eleven players into their own penalty area when Aiden McGeady addressed a free-kick from the left wing as early as the 9th minute. It was indicative of the mood of the first half for Ireland were also slow to commit players forward and were prepared to concede midfield to protect the edge of their penalty-area.
It led to a contest that was disputed in physical terms in the crowded areas in front of the penalty-areas and one that spawned precious few genuine scoring chances. Indeed Slovakia contrived to look the more dangerous of the two teams and were more willing to essay a scoring effort from distance.
Weiss succeeded in penetrating the Irish box in the 19th minute as he sprinted in to cut off a cross from the left wing. He checked back on to his right foot but his shot, hit hurriedly as Richard Dunne closed, flew into the alert Shay Given's midriff.
An untidy game produced a multitude of free kicks and with Slovakia contesting everything near the Ireland penalty area with vigour Ireland had to be at their most committed. A free from the end line in the 27th minute on the right of goal was returned from the left wing for Holosko to turn a header goalwards that was pushed around the butt of an upright by the stretching Given.
Ireland had failed to get a worthwhile attempt on target to this point and it highlighted a lack of sharpness up front. The wingers, Aiden McGeady and Damien Duff, were both double-teamed by the hard-working Slovakia while Kevin Doyle was, for once, subdued and Robbie Keane was countered by the formidable Skrtel and Durica.
The replacement of Doyle in the 64th minute confirmed the suspicion that the willing Wolves striker was less that fully match-fit and Ireland struggled to get a clear sight of Mucha's goal.
An attempt at an extravagant overhead kick by Keane betrayed a certain degree of frustration and Duff's mis-hit left foot shot that was saved comfortably by Mucha in the 38th minute represented the closest Ireland came to breaking the deadlock before the break.
Ireland were involved in a battle to survive for a period in the second half when Slovakia, growing in confidence and ambition by the minute, succeeded in exerting enormous pressure on a hard-working defence. They were accurate and incisive in their work and Ireland were fully stretched against an attack that played with more fluidity and cohesion.
The lively Stoch was at the heart of most of Slovakia's best work and he sent Weiss sprinting in on goal from the right for a clear shot that flew narrowly outside the far upright.
Sean St. Ledger kept Ireland's hopes alive as he somehow got across goal and threw his body in the path of a shot from Hamsik from ten yards when he seemed certain to score after 61 minutes. Holosko set him up as he broke clear down the left wing and an agitated Ireland breathed a hugh sigh of relief at St. Ledger's heroics.
The game turned, however, as Ireland repulsed Slovakia's concerted attacks and it was Slovakia's turn to thank their lucky stars as a determined Ireland drove them back and created what should have been match-winning scores. Twice Ireland spurned opportunities after creating clear-cut openings and were left to wonder at what might have been at the final whistle.
Keane left the first chance slip by in the 74th minute after Duff had worked his magic on the right wing to open a path to goal. He angled his cross with delicate accuracy to the far upright where Keane somehow mis-timed his jump and deflected his header over the bar from no more than six yards.
This was agonisingly close for Ireland and they again were left frustrated as a similar opportunity slipped by in the 84th minute. Keane did extremely well as he pulled down a pass just inside the penalty area on the right of goal. He shaped as if to shoot and turned the ball square for Cox. He responded well, wrong-footed the defence by pulling the ball on to his left foot, and then spun his shot wide with Andrews totally free on his left.
Sean St. Ledger, who picked up a yellow card in the dying seconds that will rule him out of Tuesday's match in Russia, made a brave attempt to capitalise upon the huge effort Ireland made to force a winning goal in the closing quarter. The game was in added time when he threw himself at a cross from the left from substitute Stephen Hunt but was unable to hit the target.
The game illustrated just how competitive is this group. Both teams showed strength in depth in their defensive work and scoring chances were at a minimum. The precious nature of the points at stake inevitably enforced a cautious approach but as the final whistle approached, the pace of the game was accelerated and the action in the opposing penalty areas grew ever more frantic.
Ireland will take encouragement from achieving a sixth consecutive clean sheet' as they head for another match of critical importance in Moscow on Tuesday. The injury to Shane Long that meant he was not even on the substitute's bench was a set-back and they will be hoping that Kevin Doyle will have benefitted from his 64 minutes of action.
The incentive of a place in the finals of EURO 2012 in Poland/Ukraine is still very much alive for this battling Irish team.
Republic of Ireland: Shay Given (Aston Villa); John O'Shea (Sunderland), Richard Dunne (Aston Villa), Sean St. Ledger (Leicester City), Stephen Ward (Wolverhampton Wanderers); Damien Duff (Fulham), Keith Andrews (Ipswich Town), Glenn Whelan (Stoke City), Aiden McGeady (Spartak Moscow); Kevin Doyle (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy).
Substitutes: Simon Cox (West Bromwich Albion) for Doyle 64; Stephen Hunt (Wolverhampton Wanderers) for McGeady 85.
Slovakia: Mucha; Pekarik, Skrtel, Durica, Cech; Hamsik, Karhan, Kucka, Weiss, Stoch; Holosko.
Substitutions: Guede for Kucka 77; Jendrisek for Weiss 85; Vittek for Holosko 88.
Referee: Mr. P. Garcia (Portugal)