Giovanni Trapattoni's Ireland can still make the European Championship playoffs after a scoreless draw in Moscow on Tuesday night -- and if they do they will have to thank Richard Dunne and Shay Given.
Dunne was brilliant and Given heroic as Ireland followed Friday's lifeless draw at home to Slovakia with an act of defiance against the Group B leaders.
Aston Villa defender Dunne ended up with blood on his shirt, a yellow card that rules him out for Andorra next month and stitches in his cheek after a man of the match performance in Russia.
The Dubliner even had to have the number five scrawled onto a makeshift shirt after he emerged bloodied but unbowed from a touchline skirmish with Zhirkov late on.
Dunne, goalkeeper Shay Given and winger Aiden McGeady were the heroes as Ireland somehow kept a clean sheet for a seventh consecutive game.
Russia, 3-2 winners in Dublin last October, threw everything bar the kitchen sink at Ireland in a game they dominated from start to finish.
They had over 20 efforts on goal over the 90 minutes, while Ireland had just four. Yet still the visitors held out for Ireland’s first ever point from all their years visiting Moscow.
They did so thanks to a brilliant goal-line clearance from Dunne when he somehow denied Semshov in the first half and then stopped a certain goal for Shirokov after the break.
Given was just as effective for Trapattoni’s team. He served notice of his intentions with an excellent stop from Arsenal’s Arshavin early on while Duff cleared off the line from Ignashevich just before the break.
And right at the death, with just two minutes remaining, Given somehow denied Zyrnakov’s header with a brilliant goal-line clearance.
Ireland, run ragged by the Russians on the plastic pitch, never came close to a clear-cut chance but ultimately it didn’t matter as they held out for a draw.
Trapattoni’s team must now beat Andorra, away, and Armenia, at home, in their final two Group B qualifiers and hope that is enough to earn them at least a play-off place in November.
After this backs-to-the-wall performance, they probably deserve that much at least.
"They had many chances, but our defense was fantastic, Shay Given, Richard Dunne and O'Dea," said Trapattoni. "This is a good point because they have another game against Slovakia. In one month, I hope we will be fitter, because some players were not as fit -- like Robbie Keane, McGeady and Doyle.”
Giovanni Trapattoni has defended himself against growing criticism as Ireland hang onto their European Championship dream.
The Irish boss was criticized in almost every quarter after his team was held to a scoreless draw by Slovakia at the Aviva Stadium on Friday.
Ireland went into the game against Russia on Tuesday against a backdrop of negative comment and analysis of the Slovakian match when the visitors could easily have won on a night that Robbie Keane and Richard Dunne missed great second half chances.
Many critics claimed after the game that Trapattoni is too negative for this Irish squad, a claim he categorically denied.
Trapattoni said, “Every game, we go on to the pitch to win. If I only had what you call a defensive attitude I wouldn’t have achieved what I have achieved in 25 or 30 years as a coach.
“It’s a simple philosophy -- score more goals and concede fewer. That’s my life. Our team has proved to be very well organized and when you consider what we have done up until now, if we can play with the same organization and the same spirit, it is possible to win here in Russia.”
The Irish manager is also aware that his own future hangs in the balance. Weekend reports claimed that FAI officials are prepared to offer Trapattoni and his assistant Marco Tardelli new deals if Ireland make the Euro playoffs at worst -- but only on reduced terms and up to half of Trap’s current $2.5 million a year contract.
Tardelli has said the Italian pair is prepared to take another reduction in salary, but was not aware of the possibility of a 50% cut.
“I spoke with John Delaney two or three days ago. He never told me about this. For me, it’s speculation,” claimed Tardelli.
“Also two years ago, we took a cut in our contracts. Maybe again but not too much. I don’t understand well in English, but John Delaney didn’t talk to me about that.
“Many times, we speak with John and the board to decide to continue or not. For us, you know our idea -- we want to stay on.
“If the board want me and Giovanni to stay here, it’s okay. There’s nothing to be discussed at the moment.”
Celtic are back in the Europa League after UEFA upheld the club’s complaint relating to the recent matches against Sion.
The Glasgow club had claimed that Switzerland’s Sion fielded ineligible players in their two leg win over Celtic after breaking a transfer embargo.
Atletico Madrid, Udinese and Rennes will now await Celtic in the group stages of the Europa League, subject to any appeal by Sion.
A Celtic spokesperson said, “We have been advised by UEFA that the two protests relating to the matches against FC Sion have been upheld, as a result of which each match has been forfeited in favor of Celtic.
“We are pleased by this decision, the approach which has been taken by UEFA and the fact that UEFA rules and regulations have been upheld.”
Celtic were busy on transfer deadline day when striker Shaun Maloney returned to the Premier League and joined Wigan on a two year deal.
Southampton signed defender Jos Hooiveld on loan from Celtic, while Parkhead boss Neil Lennon has signed Moroccan left-back Badr El-Kaddouri on loan from Dynamo Kiev.
Back to Reality
Non-league Sheriff FC were brought back down to earth with a bang on Monday when they were thrown out of the FAI Cup just a week after a giant-killing act when they beat Shelbourne 3-2 at Tolka Park in the fourth round.
The FAI’s domestic affairs committee discovered that Sheriff field an ineligible player in the win over Shels.
Their quarterfinal opponents Limerick have been awarded a walkover into the semifinals pending an appeal from Sheriff or Shelbourne.
Shamrock Rovers are back on top of the Premier Division of the Airtricity League after goals from Stephen O’Donnell and Billy Dennehy secured a 2-1 win at Dundalk on Saturday.
Sligo lost ground when they were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Derry City. Bohs were 2-1 winners against Bray at Dalymount, UCD won 5-4 in a thriller against Drogheda in Belfield and St. Pat’s hammered Galway 6-1 at Richmond Park.
Shamrock Rovers have signed former Spurs and Wolves midfielder Rohan Ricketts and Motherwell defender Jim Paterson ahead of their Europa League adventure.
Hoops defender Enda Stevens has agreed a move to Aston Villa at the end of the Irish domestic season and will be available to Rovers for the Europa League group games against Spurs, Rubin Kazan of Russia and PAOK of Greece.
Roy Keane has been linked with a new job as manager of the Icelandic international team according to newspaper reports. Keane is in the frame to take over the Iceland team after a disastrous European Championship campaign but he faces competition from Steve Coppell and former Sweden boss Lars Lagerback...
Billy Dennehy scored a hat-trick as Shamrock Rovers hammered UCD 6-0 in their FAI Cup fourth round replay in Belfield on Monday night. They will now meet Sligo Rovers in the quarterfinals, a repeat of last year’s decider.
Waterford hurling boss Davy Fitzgerald has confirmed that he has yet to make a decision on his future after his name was linked with his native Clare in the wake of Ger O’Loughlin’s recent resignation.
“I have put a lot of thought into this and I still don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Fitzgerald ahead of a meeting with the Waterford board.
“I would have to be making up my mind one way or the other for everyone’s sake. There’s no point in dragging these things out.”