Italy stun Ireland with last minute equaliser

Italy stun Ireland with last minute equaliser

10/10/'09: Republic of Ireland 2 - 2 Italie
10th Oct 2009
World Cup Qualifer
Republic of Ireland2-2Italy
Glenn Whelan 8, Sean St. Ledger 87Mauro Camoranesi 26, Alberto Gilardino 90
Saturday, 10 October 2009Croke Park, Dublin

Italy stun Ireland with last minute equaliser

Satisfaction for the Republic of Ireland at finishing second in the World Cup qualifying group and securing a place in the play-offs was tempered by the conviction that they should have won at Croke Park.

When Ireland jumped in front for a second time with a goal from Sean St. Ledger the match was already into the 87th minute. A famous win of potentially huge significance over the reigning World Cup holders loomed large.

With it was the possibility - however unlikely, given that Italy will be at home to Cyprus in their last match - that they might actually qualify automatically if results of next Wednesday's programme of matches go their way.

It was not to be. Ireland faltered over the final few strides and the manner of their last minute concession of a second equalising goal was calculated not just to break Irish hearts, but to render them to dust and ashes.

Italy argued, with some justification, that the result merely reflected the reality of what had transpired over the course of 90 absorbing minutes before a rapt audience of 70,640 souls. But to suggest that a win for Ireland would have been an injustice - as their manager contended - was a trifle exaggerating.

True, Italy enjoyed more possession and played the more skilful, more attractive and constructive football. The statistics will show that. But it was also true that Ireland's goalkeeper, Shay Given, had only two saves of consequence to make, one from Grosso after 25 minutes and another from Zambrotta in the 71st minute.

Lippi spoke of luck afterwards in the context of past campaigns. Italy had qualified twice before for the finals before the final match in the qualifying series - in 1982 and in 2006. They went on to win the World Cup on each occasion and he suggested that this third such qualification might be a portent of what is to come in South Africa.

It was a close run thing, of course, for Ireland must have believed they had the match won when Sean St. Ledger ducked low to head a marvellous second goal in that 87th minute. The spirit and passion of their football looked to have secured a deserved reward.

But they were caught by a sucker punch as Italy hit them on the rebound for substitute Alberto Gilardino to snatch a last-gasp draw after a clinical move that exposed major flaws in Ireland's defence and in their tactical awareness.

Ireland were caught as they committed players forward in search of a third goal and one can only guess at how this cavalier approach must have infuriated Trapattoni. For he is the ultimate pragmatist and his calm and reasoned recall of the sequence surely cloaked massive frustration.

"I am not angry with the players" he avowed, "but it was a big disappointment to concede so late in the game. It was a silly mistake to go forward when we were leading 2-1, it is a silly habit (the players have) to go forward when we need to control the situation.

"When we went in front 2-1 we must change a little bit and work at controlling (the possession). I thought we had won but the enthusiasm of the players (drew them forward) and we need more experience. The players learned a valuable lesson because with three minutes left we should not lose (a goal) ... it takes time (to learn this lesson) but it is coming."

He made a very relevant point when he added: "If Italy lead the game 2-1 with three minutes left then we would have been drunk from chasing around after them for they would have played the ball into areas we would not expect. It is normal for players in Italy (to think this way) for the players have the same habits at their clubs."

Credit must go to Marcello Lippi as well for while he admitted that he had thought the game was lost to Italy, he acted immediately to change things when St. Ledger scored his goal.

He sent in Simone Pepe for Angelo Palombo and it was Pepe who played the ball down the left wing for Iaquinta to set up the unmarked Gilardino for a simple goal with a pass across the edge of the penalty area.

Lippi was full of praise for his evolving team, highlighting the work of the newcomers and the drive and hunger of the entire squad. He explained his late substitution by saying: "Putting in Pepe was very important for the re-start for it was like starting afresh."

Glenn Whelan scored a magnificent opening goal after eight minutes when he volleyed in a shot from 25 yards from Liam Lawrence's pass from a free kick. After a bright and breezy opening, in which Lawrence played a full part and Ireland played some captivating football, the goal promised much.

But Italy grew to control midfield and expanded their game when Mauro Camoranesi ran from behind players to get to Andrea Pirlo's left wing corner in the 26th minute to head, unhindered, the equalising goal. They caused Ireland many problems at set pieces.

Ireland had as many scoring chances as the Italians from less possession. Robbie Keane had shots charged down by the two centre-backs in turn in one sustained attack in the second half and Keith Andrews lost a good chance in the 54th minute.

Lawrence, a very positive force in his first competitive start, drove a free against the wall and the rebound fell kindly for Andrews but his finish, from 22 yards, was over the bar.

St. Ledger did wonderfully well to get to Stephen Hunt's free for Ireland's second goal and the manner in which Italy celebrated their late equaliser told the full story.

Their bench of subs and officials emptied as they poured on to the sideline in celebration and one can only hope now that this brave and committed Irish squad will have reason to behave similarly and earn their due reward through the play-offs.

Republic of Ireland: Shay Given; John O'Shea, Richard Dunne, Sean St. Ledger, Kevin Kilbane; Liam Lawrence, Glenn Whelan (Martin Rowlands 76), Keith Andrews, Aiden McGeady (Stephen Hunt 78); Kevin Doyle (Leon Best 67), Robbie Keane.

Italy: Buffon; Zambrotta, Lelgrottaglie, Chiellini, Grosso (Bochetti 76); Camoranesi, De Rossi, Pirlo, Palombo (Pepe 89), Di Natale (Gilardino 76); Iaquinta.

Referee: Mr. Hauge Terje (Norway).