herald

Sunday 4 December 2016

Ireland claim historic victory over Germany and qualification is in our own hands

Ireland 1 Germany 0

Shane Long celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal
Shane Long celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal
Jerome Boateng of Germany in action against Wes Hoolahan
Germany's Matthias Ginter in action against Stephen Ward in the UEFA Euro 2016 Group D qualifier, Republic of Ireland v Germany at the Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin

We doubted and we were wrong. Martin O'Neill picked the best possible moment to let Ireland's ugly ducklings emerge as swans. What a night!

All those years waiting for a big scalp, Holland the last one, but now a worthy memory to match it. Germany, World Champions.

We used to feel a bit sheepish around Germans, like unruly and down at heel cousins. Now, we know that they are as feckless and unreliable as everyone else.

Mention German banks in an Irish pub these days and you'll get a growl. Angela Merkel is a hate figure. On the roads, you can't look at a Volkswagen or an Audi without sniggering.

But they still have the football team. Still imperious, still arrogant, hugely self-possessed and still capable of administering a caning if they feel the urge. Still World Champions and Ireland have just beaten them

READ MORE: Video: Watch Martin O'Neill's perfect response to German boss Joachim Low's claims of '100 long balls from Ireland'

They began the match in the box seat, the role assigned to them as the dominant team by Loew and indeed O'Neill and the concession of a corner after a few minutes underlined the point.

As they swarmed around Shay Given's penalty area, you picked off the names that have we have been reading all summer in the relentless drone of transfer gossip.

READ MORE: Over-confident Germans learn it's unwise to write off the Irish

Müller, Gotze, Hummels, Reus, Kroos add up to about £300m if the headlines can be believed and in this case who would doubt them.

READ MORE: Shane Long's beauty downs champions Germany and guarantees play-off spot

Then your eyes skimmed the Ireland list and rested on Stephen Ward at left-full. Without a game of any consequence since August, he was facing a big task to say the least.

READ MORE: VIDEO: Bieber in green? Justin tweets his delight as Irish team celebrate Germany win with his song

To be fair to O'Neill, Hoolahan was essentially given licence to roam, permission to play his own game. His hustling and harrying unsettled the Germans in the early part of the game.

It even led to a few crowded lifting counter-attacks but slowly but surely, they took a grip and reduced the game to walking pace, finding their passes and taking their time about making chances.

READ MORE: 'Let's go and win in Warsaw' says hero Shane Long

The first fell to Ilkay Gundogan and Ireland had John O'Shea's long right leg to thank for a deflection which took his shot wide.

Mesut Ozil had the ball in the net after 19 minutes, the sharp end of long, patiently crafted opening, but the goal was disallowed for offside.

As is sometimes the case, a moment like that helps the defending team and in this case, lifted Irish spirits and the performance level.

Directed by Hoolahan's dancing feet, Ireland moved forward, with Christie pressing down the right and Brady on the left and from a position of hanging on grimly, the momentum shifted.

Water's had a chance at the right upright after good work from Chrsitie and the Stoke striker popped up again in a one-two with Hoolahan on the left edge of the box before firing in a shot which was cleared for a corner.

It was a rare thing, an Ireland set-piece. Most of the action around the corner flags came from Germany, a long series of them dealt with reasonably well.

The Germans lost Mario Gotze through injury in the 34th but the oddest moment of the first-half came when Given pulled up after a kick-out just two minutes before the break and had to be replaced by Darron Randolph,

If that was unsettling for Ireland, it didn't show.Surprisingly, the Germans eased back in the early moments of the second-half and given some room to breathe, Ireland began to pass the ball well and hold it.

In the 66th minute after a sustained period of Irish pressure, Daryl Murphy came close with a 25 yarder.

Shortly afterwards, Shane Long came into the game for Murphy and David Meyler replaced the flagging Ward.

Within seconds, Long lifted the roof of the Aviva. He chased a long punt from Randolph and sandwiched between Hummels and Boeteng, satill found the space and time to beat Neuer.

Instant pandemonium. Long soldiered without much success at international level and O'Neill chose him instead of Robbie Keane as the impact substitute.

It was a wise choice.

With the goal in the bank, it might have backs to the wall but Ireland grew in confidence and even tried for a second.

You felt it was inevitable, though, that the final moments would be a siege but they held out and pressed forward - held out gloriously.

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