Ireland and Croatia draw in Euro qualifierAP
IRELAND - 0 CROATIA - 0
It was a hot August night at the Aviva, as Neil Diamond might call it, but all eyes were on September’s Euro tests to come – and the start of the Premier League season in England this Saturday.
Wednesday night’s scoreless draw was a just result in a game that never reached tepid never mind boiling point for two sets of players with other things on their mind, not least their club commitments.
Irish boss Giovanni Trapattoni is also looking to the future right now but will have learnt little from this exercise in front of an official attendance of just over 21,000 fans.
Just over three weeks from now Ireland host Slovakia on a Friday night then travel to Moscow for the defining game in the Euro 2012 qualifiers the following Tuesday.
Not just qualification will be on the line next month as the manager’s own future is also up for discussion when September comes.
Trapattoni has made no secret of his desire to renew his handsome $2.4million a year contract.
He said as much again when the draw for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers threw Ireland in with Germany, Sweden, Austria, Kazakhstan and Brian Kerr’s Faroe Islands, beaten 4-0 in Belfast on Wednesday night.
But Trap is a realist. He knows, for all some of his players urged the FAI to act now on the issue this week, that his future depends on getting Ireland to the Euro finals in Poland and the Ukraine next month.
That’s why this warm-up game was so important – not that the pace or intensity of the match, three days before the start of the Premier League in England, suggested as much.
In truth, Ireland created few chances on the night. Shane Long, celebrating his $10million move from Reading to West Brom had two decent efforts before the break but the first went straight at ‘keeper Pletikosa and the second lacked any real finishing power in the 31st minute.
Granted Shay Given had precious little to do at the other end either.
Ireland did escape in the 15th minute when Stephen Kelly bundled Strinic over in the box but Norwegian referee Tom Hagen waved play on when a penalty seemed inevitable.
Croatia, chasing Greece at the top of their European qualifying group, spurned two chances either side of the half-time break.
First Spurs squad player Niko Kranjcar screwed the ball over the bar with the goal at his mercy in the 37th minute then Mario Mandzukic hit his shot straight at Stephen Hunt on the hour mark.
A Darron Gibson yellow card, after a foul on substitute Olic that threatened to provoke a Lansdowne Road riot all of its own, was the most noteworthy Irish incident in a poor second-half.
Richard Dunne should have scored when he got on the end of a Sean St Ledger cross in the 72nd minute but that was as good as it got for the home side in front of the small attendance.
The positives, few as they were, centered around the return to fitness and form of Damien Duff on the Irish wing and Dunne and St Ledger’s sometimes imposing presence at the back.
Stephen Ward’s latest outing at left-back was also worth a mention on a night when Ireland recorded only the third scoreless draw of the Trapattoni era.
They simply can’t afford a similar scoreline at home to Slovakia next month.
And a scoreless draw in Moscow will only be a good result if the Slovaks are beaten in Dublin.
Let the real action begin.
REP. OF IRELAND: Given; Kelly, Dunne, St Ledger, Ward; Duff, Whelan, Gibson, Hunt; Keane, Long. Subs. – Westwood for Given 64 mins; Keogh for Hunt 64 mins; O’Dea for Whelan 74 mins; Cox for Long 82 mins; Treacy for Duff 82 mins.
CROATIA: Pletikosa; Corluka, Simunic, Lovren, Strinic; Modric, Vukojevic, Kranjcar, Mandzukic, Eduardo. Subs.- Olic for Eduardo 45 mins; Ilicevic for Kranjcar 65 mins;