Sunday 23 October 2016

Raise a glass to Georgia then go beat 'em

Gibraltar 0 Republic of Ireland 4

Irish captain Robbie Keane celebrates scoring his second goal in the 4-0 victory over Gibraltar in the Euro 2016 qualifier in Faro last night
Irish captain Robbie Keane celebrates scoring his second goal in the 4-0 victory over Gibraltar in the Euro 2016 qualifier in Faro last night
Robbie Keane celebrates after scoring Ireland’s second goal SPORTSFILE
Shane Long, second left, celebrates with his teammates after scoring Ireland’s fourth goal against Gibraltar in Faro last night
Robbie Keane taps in Ireland's second goal
Jon Walters attempts to bring the ball under control in Faro last night
Republic of Ireland supporters celebrate at the end the game

Everything changed at about 7 o clock last night. Around the bars in Faro, Ireland fans lifted off their seats when Valeri Kazaishvili scored his sweet goal and again an hour later when the final whistle sounded in Tbilisi.

Out came the calculators and, suddenly, what seemed like a hopeless cause now looks much more manageable.

Scotland's defeat in Tbilisi was a result Martin O'Neill prayed for and hinted at several times when he spoke about the group standings in the build-up to the weekend.

Without delving too deeply into the permutations and, with Monday's games still to come, it could be that one precious point from Ireland's two big games against Germany and Poland in October will be enough to deliver a play-off.

Even the most optimistic fans could not have foreseen such a scenario in the hours and days after Gordon Strachan brought his players to Dublin back in June and left with a point.


Now though, the landscape has shifted considerably - and 3,000 Ireland fans had already begun their celebration before the two teams arrived out on the pitch for their warm-up.

It was vaguely surreal, but what better way to mark Scotland's downfall than a goal-fest against the smallest minnows of them all, Gibraltar?

There was some head-scratching when O'Neill's team selection was released. Cyrus Christie was not even considered as a possible starter, but Seamus Coleman reported a tight hamstring in the hours before the game and was left on bench.

O'Neill picked Robbie Keane as the sharp point of a three-man attack, flanked by Wes Hoolahan and Jon Walters, and this threesome gave Gibraltar cause for alarm from the first whistle.

Walters had the ball in the net in the 12th minute after four or five chances which could have produced goals, but he was flagged for offside.

All Gibraltar had to try to stop the relentless flow towards their own penalty area was physical strength and numbers behind the ball, and it was only a matter of time before they cracked.

The breakthrough came in the 26th minute - and in the surprising shape of Christie who, up to that point, had played one or two poor passes and seemed to be struggling to get to grips with the game.

But when he took a pass back from Hoolahan after a throw-in, he slalomed through a couple of tackles and into the box. A sweetly struck shot with the outside of his right boot flew in at the far corner.

Christie managed to do in two games what Coleman has failed to do in 28 and, within ten minutes, O'Neill had reason to be thankful for his abilities at the other end of the pitch.

Gibraltar midfielder Liam Walker took aim from 30 yards and, with the ball visibly moving in the air, Shay Given had to be at his best to touch the ball over.

From the corner, Christie put his head to the ball and cleared, with Gibraltar skipper Roy Chipolina unmarked at the far post.

With hard work of subduing Gibraltar done in the first-half, the requirement after the break was goals - and plenty of them - and, on cue, Keane popped up to completely break the home team's resistance.

A cross from the right by Walters was driven against his own post by Jean Carlos Garcia in the 49th minute. The rebound squirmed under keeper Perez and Keane was standing three yards out for the simplest finish.

Moments later, Keane had his second and inched ever closer to Gerd Muller in the all-time scorer's list when Hoolahan was felled in the box and referee Marijo Stranhonja pointed to the penalty spot.

That quick-fire brace put an end to any jitters O'Neill might have felt and allowed his team to open up, but it took another 30 minutes to find the net again.


Shane Long, in for Keane, crowned a good night's work for Ireland with a fourth goal.

Christie was clearly happy with his contribution, saying: "I'm delighted to score a goal and get the ball rolling. It was going to be a tough game, they were going to sit off and make it tough for us, so we needed the breakthrough.

"I managed to get myself a goal and the lads went on from there."

"You know if you give Wes the ball it's going to stick with him and you're going to get it back. He's a creative player, he's a top player and I'm just happy to get the three points, get the win and make my competitive debut for Ireland."

Promoted articles

Entertainment News