The Republic of Ireland opened their challenge in the qualifying tournament of the World Cup by giving manager Giovanni Trapattoni his first victory when they defeated Georgia 2-1 in Mainz, Germany.
Goals from Kevin Doyle and Glenn Whelan left Ireland cruising to a comfortable win in the surreal surroundings of a near-empty stadium until they conceded a goal in added time.
The concession of the goal, in the second added minute, was the one major flaw in an Irish performance that was calm and assured for most of the 90 minutes.
There was one first half incident when Georgia’s striker, Iashvili, headed over from six yards following a corner, but otherwise Ireland looked secure and in charge in defence. Goalkeeper Shay Given was not asked to make a worthwhile save.
It is true to say that Ireland did not create a great many scoring chances themselves but they would not have been flattered had they been more than two goals in front when Georgia scored their late consolation goal.
Steven Reid, Robbie Keane and John O’Shea were all within touching distance of scoring as Ireland controlled the game for long periods with Reid and Glenn Whelan in commanding form in central midfield.
Reid hammered a shot from 25 yards as Keane rolled a free kick to him in the first half and goalkeeper Lorla was happy to dive and push the ball away.
O’Shea closed quickly on to a superb corner kick from Aiden McGeady from the left wing but his powerful header from six yards carried narrowly over.
Keane was closest of all when Georgia’s Kaladze under-hit an attempted pass-back when put under pressure by Doyle. Keane won the ball before the advancing Lorla and struck the upright from the right of the penalty area with the net yawning. The rebound was driven wide by McGeady.
Ireland looked compact and well-organised but seemed to tire in the closing quarter of the game. The substitutions may also have upset the balance but manager Trapattoni will surely look for a more positive response than was forthcoming when Ireland came under late pressure.
The game was played in Mainz because of the recent military action in Georgia and the Bruchweg Stadium was occupied by only 4,500 spectators, an extraordinarily small attendance for an Irish World Cup tie.
The Irish fans ensured they made their presence felt, as ever, but still the strange atmosphere must have seemed a little unreal to the players. They played with a great deal of energy from kick-off and, so early in the season, that may have taken a toll.
Our photo shows Kevin Kilbane complete with face-mask to protect the cracked cheek-bone he sustained last week-end.
While they were bright and lively they were effective and highly dangerous and a goal after 13 minutes was no more than they deserved.
It came when Reid worked the ball right to McGeady on the touch-line. He went past his full-back and chipped the ball at speed into the heart of the penalty area where Kevin Doyle headed it decisively into the net.
The second goal was more fortuitous. Glenn Whelan took a pass from Reid in a central position and some 30 yards from goal. His shot looked a little over-ambitious but as goalkeeper Lorla shaped to catch the shot, he somehow contrived to let it slip through his hands and into the net.
The goal to Georgia came too late to upset Ireland’s win. A series of Georgia corners ended when the 17 years old Kenia, Georgia’s best player, swerved a left foot shot from 12 yards, on the right of the penalty area, inside the far upright.
|Georgia: Lorla; Lobjanidze, Khizanishvili (Asatiani 82), Kaladze, Shashiashvili; Menteshashvili, Kobiashvili, Kenia; Odikadze, Iashvili (Gotsiridze 77), Aleksidze (Siradez 61).|
Republic of Ireland: Shay Given; Steve Finnan (Paul McShane 80), John O’Shea, Richard Dunne, Kevin Kilbane; Aiden McGeady (Andy Keogh 86), Steven Reid, Glenn Whelan, Stephen Hunt; Robbie Keane, Kevin Doyle (Liam Miller 77).