|Berezovski receives a red card (Uefa)|
I came away from last night’s victory with a few thoughts amid the joy of having inched that bit closer to the European Championships. As is often the case, Ireland seemed to have that bit of luck and as usual, there was an edginess to the performance that would give even the most patient of saints a reason to crack. Trapattoni’s regime has been such that for every positive result there is a negative that needs to be addressed.
Simon Cox conceded that Armenia’s goalkeeper, Berezovski, was unlucky to have been sent off. Indeed it could have gone either way. According to the commentary on RTÉ, it was Mr Gonzalez’s last game as a referee, so I sense that he unwittingly attempted to steal the show by showing eight yellow cards and sending two men off. Nevertheless, these things happen in football, like the infamous “Hand of Gaul” incident in that play-off in Paris. Until such times when the powers-that-be introduce video replays, you play to the whistle and get on with it.
Ireland’s tactics were straightforward but undeniably effective. The Armenians were unable to deal with Shay Given’s long balls and they struggled to stifle the wily movement of Cox and Doyle. However, despite the pressure, Ireland were unable to capitalise until the 43rd minute and even then, needed a favour in the form of an Armenian own goal. The Armenians, playing with 10 men having had a man controversially sent off, were right to feel aggrieved, because despite the disadvantage, they still managed to control a sizeable portion of the possession – a marvellous testimony to the technical ability of this young Armenian side. At 60 minutes, Richard Dunne pounced on the inexperienced substitute goalkeeper’s reticence (he was 17!) to make it 2-0 and Ireland were in cruise control, at least Trapattoni’s type of cruise control. At one stage Armenia had 71% of the possession, which would be a frightening statistic to anyone else, but Trapattoni is happy for the opponent to keep the ball as long as his team is winning.
Despite being comfortably in the lead, several Irish players displayed the reckless complacency that has cost Ireland in the past. Aiden McGeady, for example, had an atrocious evening; the tricky Glaswegian simply could not beat his man and insisted on wasting possession almost every time he got the ball, which is completely unacceptable at this level, when so much is at stake. The Armenians even snatched a goal, in what was almost a carbon copy of the build-up play that saw Ireland concede a wonder-goal against Andorra – a weak clearance from a high ball and an abundance of space afforded to the Armenians due to poor positioning from the Irish midfield, Keith Andrews in particular, who was nearly 20 yards away from where he should have been. Certainly, Shay Given could have been better for the shot, but I’d argue that Mkhitaryan should not have been allowed the time and space to shoot and for this reason, Andrews is most culpable. Not only does Andrews lack the positional awareness and tackling ability for his role, he lacks the imagination, as was frustratingly showcased as he squandered an amazing counter-attack opportunity when he played the ball backwards, towards trouble. Kevin Doyle will miss the play-offs as a result of controversial refereeing, but he didn’t help his case with the indiscipline he had previously displayed when he needlessly picked up a yellow card.
Thankfully, Ireland are seeded for the play-off draw, which will see them face Bosnia & Herzegovina, Estonia, Turkey or Montenegro, but Trapattoni should remind his players to be wary of complacency. By world football standards, of this group, only Turkey has made an impact, but each of these teams is here by virtue of their quality and like Armenia, must not be underestimated. Ireland have faced Montenegro in the past and it is important to note that Estonia have moved from 86th to 58th in the FIFA rankings while Bosnia & Herzegovina have moved to 22nd . So regardless of who is drawn out of the hat on Thursday, Ireland can be sure of a tough task. The roller-coaster ride is far from over.