08.10.2010 at 19:45 Aviva Stadium
Republic of Ireland
2 - 3
Referee: Mr. Kevin Blom (Netherlands).
European Cup Qualifier / Prog-match
Sean St Ledger
Aidan Mc Geady
Republic of Ireland 2 Russia 3
The Republic of Ireland's spirited rally in the closing twenty minutes of the UEFA 2012 Championship qualifying tie at the Aviva Stadium helped recover some pride in a game that illustrated the potential of an emerging Russian team.
Ireland's fighting recovery yielded two goals, the first courtesy of a penalty, that put a flattering look on the scoreboard. Russia out-played a subdued Ireland for long periods and adorned some exciting and imaginative football with quality goals.
There was a zip to their passing movements that underlined superior technique and a zest to their support play that meant the 3-0 lead they enjoyed up to the 72nd minute was an accurate reflection of the trend.
Yet the final whistle came as a relief to them as Ireland belatedly injected some fire into their approach and exposed some shortcomings in Russia's defence.
Ireland needed a penalty decision to ignite their engine. It came when Robbie Keane got inside Zhirkov and tumbled as the full-back caught him on the heel. Keane confidently put the penalty away and suddenly Ireland were transformed.
Where earlier they had been hesitant and unfocused, suddenly they were positive and assertive. Now they worked harder to take closer order and they succeeded in disrupting Russia's pattern and their tempo.
Hustled out of their comfort zone, denied the time and space to pick and choose their passes, Russia were also transformed but in a negative sense. They withdrew deep into their own defence in numbers in face of Ireland's growing challenge.
It is true that Ireland processed this new and aggressive approach with the most basic of route one football. But it is also true that Russia were uncomfortable in defending it as Shane Long brought a fresh athleticism and a willing competitiveness to Ireland's attack. And with Richard Dunne and Sean St. Ledger powering forward at every opportunity, Ireland suddenly sensed they might turn the game around.
Long's first competitive goal for Ireland, in the 78th minute, helped them sustain their barrage. This came when a free from Shay Given on halfway was headed by Dunne across goal for Aiden McGeady to get in a shot which goalkeeper Akinfeev did well to parry. Long battled to win the rebound and drive it home.
The numbers that Russia drew back into defence ensured that the edge of the penalty area was subsequently so crowded that Ireland were unable to create an opening for an equalising goal. St. Ledger thumped the ground in frustration as his appeals for a penalty in added time were denied and Russia held on for a win which they deserved.
They took advantage of Ireland's uncharacteristic lack of competitiveness in the opening hour to play some captivating football. Once Kerzhakov drove the first goal home in the 10th minute following a free, they visibly grew in confidence and ambition.
A second goal in the 28th minute reflected their rampant superiority for they ripped a huge hole through Ireland's defence to score a classic. Anyukov crossed low from the right wing, Kerzhakov ran to the ball at the near post and then left it run for Dzagoev to come in behind him and hammer it home from 15 yards.
This was Russia at their splendid best and it seemed Ireland did not have the ability or the capacity to dispute matters with them. When Shirokov strode unhindered down the middle of the pitch before firing a shot that was deflected by Dunne beyond Given's reach in the 50th minute, it seemed as if Ireland were about to endure a drubbing.
To their credit they showed the requisite spirit of defiance in an unavailing attempt to retrieve a hopeless situation. But that belated come-back could not disguise Ireland's poor performance or their strangely timid approach in the opening hour. They were unlucky not to score when Keane hit the crossbar in a sustained assault on the Russian goal in the 7th minute, but it was one of too few high points for Ireland.
Richard Dunne, who was once again outstanding for Ireland, frankly admitted his puzzlement at an uncharacteristic performance .... "Probably over the game we did not deserve anything from the game" he said, "We probably could have been four or five goals down at half-time.
"We could do nothing (right) in the first half and they played very well, they passed the ball well and it was only late in the game when we started to play."
Dunne also pointed to Ireland's flawed preference for striking the ball long for Kevin Doyle to battle - "We seemed to have one game plan ... (was flawed) ... that was to go long and when they broke, they broke well and made it very difficult for us. It was only when we got the penalty we started to give it a go."
Dunne admitted he was puzzled as to why Ireland concentrated on seeking the head of the willing Doyle as their first option and pointed to the contrast to their football in the World Cup play-off in Paris last year.
"We proved when we played France we could play football ... we passed the ball well and showed we could play. We have got to have the confidence to do that and be braver and keep passing the ball and creating chances."
He clearly showed he was frustrated at the manner in which Ireland ceded ground and possession to Russia so easily and emphasised how it impacted negatively on the team ... "The defence was knackered running up and running back ... if we want to get control of a game we have to pass the ball rather than kicking it long all the time but we are not comfortable doing it."
Any analysis must take into consideration the fact that Russia invested hugely in a physical sense to restricting Ireland. They hunted in packs, worked tirelessly to close Irish players down and the manner in which they applied themselves to limiting Aiden McGeady was very instructive.
McGeady never had fewer than two opponents snapping at his heels whenever he was in possession. And when he succeeded in breaking past them he was brought to ground, a tactic that earned a yellow card for his direct opponent Anyukov in the 61st minute.
Russia played better football than Ireland and also showed they were prepared to mix it when necessary. They were more forceful than Ireland in the tackle and worked harder and the overall mix of technical skill and physical commitment they brought to play was a harsh wake-up call for Ireland. It was made plainly obvious that qualification for the finals of the UEFA Championship of 2012 will not be accomplished easily.
Republic of Ireland: Shay Given (Manchester City), John O'Shea (Manchester United), Sean St Ledger (Preston NE), Richard Dunne (Aston Villa), Kevin Kilbane (Hull City); Liam Lawrence (Portsmouth), Glenn Whelan (Stoke City), Paul Green (Derby County), Aiden McGeady (Spartak Moscow); Robbie Keane (Spurs), Kevin Doyle (Wolves).
Substitutions: Long (Reading) for Lawrence (61 mins), Gibson (Manchester United) for Whelan (66 mins), Fahey (Birmingham City) for Doyle (71 mins)
Russia: Akinfeev, Aniukov, Ignashevich, Vasili Berezutsky, Zhirkov, Denisov, Shirokov, Zyryanov, Dzagoev, Arshavin, Kerzhakov. Substitutes: Semshov for Zyryanon 68, Pogrebniak for Kerzhakov 79, A. Berezutsky for Dzagoev 84.
Subs: Gabulov, Alexei Berezutsky, Semshov, Pogrebniak, Bystrov, Bilyaletdinov, Bukharov.
Referee: Mr. Kevin Blom (Netherlands).
SHAY GIVEN 6
His hesitancy led to the first goal, indicating that a lack of action may be taking its toll. Good delivery for the Route One plan, but variation is badly needed even if it paid off on one occasion.
JOHN O'SHEA 7
Hard to fault the Manchester United defender for any of the goals and was rock solid down his flank. Was pinned back though for the 90 minutes so wasn't able to link with Liam Lawrence for the occasional forward foray. Should be capable of another good game on Tuesday.
RICHARD DUNNE 6
He was unlucky to be whistled for foul that led to first goal and also unfortunate to put through his own goal for the third. Proved a menace when he went forward, but his absence from the back was a gamble that nearly came undone. Most important, he avoided the booking which would have put him out of the Slovakia game.
SEAN ST LEDGER 6
By his own admission, Russia were the best team he has ever played against, so he did well to stay with the pace as he did. Rightly booked for a wild challenge and unlucky to deflect Kerzhakov's shot for first goal. Must watch his step in Slovakia.
KEVIN KILBANE 5
A night to forget for Kilbane, who was caught ball-watching for the first goal and lost his man for the second. In fairness, the lack of cover from McGeady didn't help, but it may be time for younger legs to start, keeping the veteran in reserve.
LIAM LAWRENCE 5
He talked up Ireland's chances all week, but Dick Advocaat had done his homework on Lawrence and had him tightly marked so that he had no chance to shine before being replaced. Still the best free-taker and will start in Slovakia, even though he had to see the doctor afterwards with a hand injury.
GLENN WHELAN 5
Having been booked in Armenia, Whelan had to tread carefully to avoid missing Tuesday's vital game in Slovakia. Wasn't his usual aggressive self, and the Russians dominated the midfield exchanges for most of the game. Had one effort which stung Akinfeev's hands, but otherwise it was a poor return for the Stoke player.
PAUL GREEN 4
In the continued absence of Keith Andrews, Green is getting his chance to nail down a regular place, but not on this display. Left his mark on a few players, but his touch is not good enough at this level yet. Hopefully Slovakia won't be as challenging for him.
AIDEN McGEADY 5
Playing more regularly now, and in competitive Russian and Champions League games, but continuously tried to take too much out of the ball and ended up losing possession. Costly lapse of concentration for the Russians' second goal when he lost his marker.
ROBBIE KEANE 6
With so little football under his belt, how much has Ireland's scoring talisman got left in the tank for Slovakia? That's the big question after another solid 90-minute grind. Too often looked for the free instead of playing the ball on its merits.
KEVIN DOYLE 7
Fouled nearly every time he went for the ball, but Doyle continued to put his body on the line. His ability in the air makes him ideal for Route One ball, but also makes the tactics predictable. Booked for a foul on Berezucky, before being replaced with a view to another hard slog on Tuesday.
SHANE LONG (for Lawrence, 61) -- Poaching skills and prodigious leap might earn more game time against Slovakia.
DARRON GIBSON (for Whelan, 65) -- Slotted in well defensively, but didn't get a chance to use his firepower.
KEITH FAHEY (for Doyle, 70)
Came in on the left, with Long switching to the point of the attack. Defensively sound, giving Trapattoni food for thought with a Slovak onslaught in mind.
Giovanni Trapattoni said he would know Advocaat's tactics after 10 minutes, yet it took him 60 minutes to make any change. Caution is good, but not when you are being overrun in midfield, and your left-wing is creaking. 5