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Monday 11 December 2017

The notion of Germany as natural winners of this wide-open group is no longer the case

David Forde
David Forde
John O'Shea

IT wasn't pretty. But it was pretty effective. And with shades of a great moment in 2002, Ireland snatched a very valuable draw against a much-vaunted German side on away soil.

John O'Shea has scored very few goals in his long international career but the one he popped up with in injury-time in Gelsenkirchen last night gave Martin O'Neill a point which his predecessor would have killed for, and it's a point which will have a big say in whether Ireland make it to France in 2016.

The attacking threat of players like Aiden McGeady - picked in an unusual role behind main striker Robbie Keane - appeared to have fallen short on the night. But some late bursts from subs Wes Hoolahan and Jeff Hendrick - two northside boys who learned their trade well before moving to England - helped infuse life into Ireland late on and O'Shea got on the end of a cross from Hendrick with almost the last kick of the game to silence the world champions.

And with Germany now having taken one points from their last two games, the notion of Germany as natural winners of this wide-open group is no longer the case, as Ireland can have real hopes of qualification.

Pessimists in the away support may have feared there was a bad omen from the start of the night, due to the identity of the referee. Slovenian whistler Damir Skomina has only been in charge of an Ireland international once before but that was an occasion when what could have been a bright night for the Irish ended in disaster, that 2-1 loss at home to Sweden in the World Cup qualifiers.

But the ref had a largely quiet night, only coming to the attention of the home fans in the crowd of 51,204 on 58 minutes when he waved away appeals for a penalty after sub Lukas Podolski went down in the box under a challenge from Marc Wilson, but the ref showed no interest in awarding a spot-kick, and it was the same again on 69 minutes, a home appeal for a penalty after O'Shea tangled with Mario Gotze, but again no penalty.

For long periods of the game, events simply bypassed people like Stephen Quinn and McGeady. The Germans were dominant in the middle and at times it was only luck that saw the central defensive axis of O'Shea and Wilson emerge unscathed.

The midfield offered some, but not enough, protection to the back four and it seemed as if the only thing that would stop Germany from scoring was their poor shooting and apparent lack of confidence. But Ireland didn't help themselves, surrendering possession time and again. On 32 minutes the home side were gifted a good scoring chance with a double dose of poor decision-making by Ireland. Marc Wilson needlessly lost the ball when he was not under pressure, Karim Bellarabi pounced and David Forde sprinted from his box to try and clear.

Germany retained possession but lacked the guile to finish the chance and perhaps it was fortunate that recently retired Miroslav Klose were not on the field to profit.

And Ireland? On the rare moments when keeper Manuel Neuer was woken from his slumber, the boys in green seemed to panic or rush into another poor decision, though there was more composure and threat from O'Neill's outfit in a brief bright spell in the second half.

On 34 minutes, James McClean seemed to have done all the hard work by beating his marker, the Stuttgart man Antonio Rudiger, but once he was clear of the German defender, McClean wasted the chance by crossing to - well, no one. Later in the first half, Ireland got a hard-earned free-kick for a foul on Robbie Keane, but from a set piece in a good position, Quinn failed to connect with a man in a green shirt and a moment of potential danger was wasted.

The second half opened brightly for Ireland, good work by McGeady and McClean causing some moments of doubts and pain, although Neuer in the German goal was never really worried.

A couple of key moments on the second half seemed to suck some of the life out of Ireland. Whelan picked up an injury and had to go off, though his replacement Hendrick (though his family will be glad to see that he was announced onto the field as 'Jeffrey' by the stadium announcer) worked hard once he got on. And by the 63rd minute O'Neill decided that Robbie Keane had done as much as he could and the captain was replaced by Darron Gibson.

With 20 minutes left, it seemed as if the game plan had worked and that Ireland would be able to hold on for a point but Real Madrid's Toni Kroos showed his true class when he stepped up and fired his shot goalwards, his effort cutting in off the inside of the post and over the line past Forde.

untroubled

With Neuer untroubled all night it seemed there was no way back for this Irish side, but the arrival of Hoolahan off the bench on 75 minutes made an impact, the Norwich man's good effort saved by Neuer with five minutes left. And at the death, the subs combined to set up O'Shea and his striker's finish - 100 caps on the night for O'Shea and a goal to walk 500 miles for.

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