Rep of Ireland 1 Serbia 1
Saturday 24th May
Stato: Giovanni Trapattoni's first match in Charge,
Debuts for Glenn Whelan, Damien Delaney
Goals Andy Kegh's first goal for Ireland
Andy Keogh electrified the attendance at Croke Park on Saturday with an equalising goal of breath-taking audacity in the 90th minute of their friendly game against Serbia and ensured that new manager Giovanni Trapattoni’s new reign did not start on a negative note.
Serbia threatened to spoil the party when they were gifted a goal in the 75th minute of a match that was essentially without distinction until then. Understandably, after a long season, the players were not at their sharpest.
Serbia substitute Pantelic then stepped into the action to ensure the game sped to a high-powered finish. He was left totally unmarked in front of the Irish penalty area in the 75th minute when left-back Dragutinovic picked him out with a ball from inside Serbia’s half.
Paul McShane had his hand in the air looking for an offside decision but the truth was Ireland’s defence was caught out of position as Pantelic allowed the ball hop into his path before sliding a shot wide of the advancing Dean Kiely.
Pantelic had been introduced into the game just six minutes earlier but he really had little to do to claim a goal that threatened to win the game. It was route one from Dragutinovic onto an open highway.
The goal had a huge pay-off, however, in terms of the injection of urgency that was imparted to the contest. Ireland responded with an explosion of energy - it was as if you had just kick-started a Harley-Davidson into life.
The introduction of Andy Keogh and Shane Long also helped fuel this particular motor so it was suddenly turbo-charged.
Serbia reeled before Ireland’s new drive and urgency. Ireland’s ‘young guns’ were hungry for the ball and driven to claim a return.
It arrived in dramatic fashion as the game slipped into lost time. A throw in an advanced right-wing position was fired in by Stephen Kelly, Darly Murphy flicked it on with a header from the edge of the penalty area and Keogh exploded a shot from 15 yards high into the net.
It was exhilarating ! Keogh’s first goal in his sixth international appearance will long be recalled. His strike was so precise and so immediate that Serbia had no defence.
Until then, however, scoring chances were as scarce as snow-flakes in summer. Ireland lacked creativity in midfield and depended almost exclusively on Damien Duff to provide some penetration.
They were unlucky not to score in the 22nd minute when Robbie Keane had a shot taken off the Serbia goal-line.
Duff crossed from the right wing and Serbia’s Rajkovic got his head to the ball to surprise his own goalkeeper, Stojkovic. The goalkeeper had to back-peddle to palm the ball from under the crossbar and it fell to Keane outside the far upright.
The Irish captain shot past Stojkovic but was then denied as Rajkovic hacked the ball to safety off the goal-line.
There were relatively few scoring attempts until the late flurry and what the match showed was that manager Giovanni Trapattoni and his team have much work to do.
They will have been encouraged, however, by the contribution of the young set - debutants Damien Delaney and Glenn Whelan and the substitutes Keogh, Long and Murphy.
There is no question, however, that a manager schooled in the Italian way will first address what issues became apparent in Ireland’s defensive set-up. The manner in which Ireland surrendered a goal to Serbia will have filled him with frustration.
Republic of Ireland: Dean Kiely (West Brom); Stephen Kelly (Birmingham City), Paul McShane (Sunderland) , Richard Dunne (Manchester City), Damien Delaney (Queen’s Park Rangers); Damien Duff (Newcastle United), Glenn Whelan (Stoke City), Liam Miller (Sunderland), Stephen Hunt (Reading); Robbie Keane (Tottenham Hotspur), Kevin Doyle (Reading).
Substitutes: Daryl Murphy (Sunderland) for Keane 69; Andy Keogh (Wolves) for Hunt 80; Shane Long (Reading) for Doyle 86.
Serbia: Stojkovic; Rukavina, Ivanovic, Rajkovic, Dragutinovic; Babovic (Markovic 80), Smiljanic, Kzmanovic, Jankovic; Ilic (Kacar 86), Lazovic (Pantelic 69).
Referee: Mr. Lee Evans (Wales).