Serbia 0 â€“ 0 Republic of Ireland
With just a handful of Irish supporters making the trip to the home ground of Red Star Belgrade, known affectionately to the locals as the Marakana, tonight's match provided a small but interesting glimpse of things to come.
Ireland's starting eleven contained only four Euro starters, Whelan, McGeady, Cox and tonight's captain O'Shea. Although Trapattoni will be counting on the return of Dunne, Duff and Keane, the younger generation showed that they can be relied on, delivering a welcome clean sheet after the painful defeats of Poland. Importantly, they looked comfortable and composed, passing the ball well and creating difficultly for the Serbs during a number of good spells in the first half.
While all eyes were on Westwood as he made the daunting step up to fill the gloves of Shay Given, it was the Serbian net minder Vladimir Stojkovic who was tested most in the opening minutes, subjected to torrents of abuse from home fans, much to the surprise of visitors to the Balkan Republic. Red Star fans don't forgive him for moving to city rivals, Partizan. A sensitive transfer in itself but hardly helped when he asked to Partizan fans to forgive him the 'mistake' of playing for Red Star.
Westwood carried off a very adept performance in goal, staring ten minutes in with a high but assured retrieval of Ignovski's floating cross from the right and made good use of his long kick-outs in search of Walters. He was kept busy in the first half with a number of long range efforts from Kolarov but it was in the second half as the team tired that he proved his real worth. In the 70th minute, a menacing low shot driven from the edge of the box towards the bottom left corner looked to be a certain goal but was parried away thanks to a fantastic instinct dive that saved the match and ultimately gave Ireland a clean sheet.
Midfield performances will also have given Trapattoni food for thought. McCarthy looked every inch ready for the task, working hard and creating countless incisive passing moves that left us wondering what might have been had he been available for the Euros. Whelan too put in a good performance providing support and looking comfortable passing the ball into the feet of Cox, Walters and McGeady. Half an hour into the game, he even found an opportunity to test an out of position Stojkovic from the half way line, winning a corner for his effort.
Ireland's best chance came in the 56th minute when Stephen Kelly played a long ball into the left corner, picked up by a hardworking McClean and dispatched enticingly low across the six yard box. Sadly, Aiden McGeady could not do it justice and clipped it right of the post.
As the team flagged noticeably in the second half, Whelan made way for Green and shortly after Andy Keogh replaced James McClean. McClean had enjoyed good spells but he was caught out on occasion, playing in a new more central position for large spells of the game. In the 78th minute, Trapattoni brought on Seamus Coleman for Aiden McGeady and Joey O'Brien for Jon Walters. Coleman's brief appearance gave the player little time to prove himself but the time he did have was put to good use with solid passing work used to keep an increasingly dominant Serbia at bay.
Cox too showed that he can play a big part in the coming campaign performing well in the centre, on the right wing and also as the front man. He can only benefit from regular football this season at Nottingham Forrest.
All in all Trapattoni will have been comforted that his charges are up to the task away from home ahead of the important opener against Kazakhtsan. With the benefit of some more club games in the coming weeks, match fitness, which was noticeably absent tonight will improve. You can be sure however that the boss will want the return of Dunne, Duff and Keane whose experience and skill might well have been pivotal in unlocking a physical Serbian defence. Without them, Trapattoni knows that the road to Rio could prove a good deal rockier.
Republic of Ireland: Keiren Westwood (Sunderland); Paul McShane (Hull City), John O'Shea (Sunderland) Capt, Darren O'Dea (Toronto), Stephen Kelly (Fulham); Aiden McGeady (Spartak Moscow), James McCarthy (Wigan Athletic), Glenn Whelan (Stoke City), James McClean (Sunderland); Jonathan Walters (Stoke City), Simon Cox (Nottingham Forest).
Substitutes: Paul Green (Leeds Utd) for Whelan 60, Andy Keogh (Millwall) for McClean 69, Joey O'Brien (West Ham) for Walters and Seamus Coleman (Everton) for McGeady 79.
Referee: Mr. A. Tudor (Romania)
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