Liam Lawrence’s marvellous goal the highlight
|Republic of Ireland||1||-||0||South Africa|
|Liam Lawrence 37|
|Tuesday, 8 September 2009||Thomond Park Stadium, Limerick|
Liam Lawrence's marvellous goal the highlight
A night of genuine satisfaction for Ireland's shadow team was illuminated by a glorious winning goal from the promising Liam Lawrence. He punished South Africa for one of several fouls perpetrated against the powerful Caleb Folan by striking a free from 30 yards that was sheer perfection in its execution.
Ireland's youngsters blossomed visibly as they built on this goal to process Giovanni Trapattoni's well-recognised game plan with total faith and commitment. Ireland spent long periods of the match deep within their own half of the pitch but they gave a master-class of effective defensive play so South Africa were rendered powerless to turn their greater share of possession to effect.
Lawrence's magnificent goal was the high point of a first half in which Ireland had to operate with ten men for a lengthy period. South Africa dominated the ball and confined play to Ireland's half for long minutes but Ireland worked with such enthusiasm that they contrived to look more dangerous in breakaway attacks.
Ireland's tactics were clearly modelled on the blueprint as drawn up by Giovanni Trapattoni for they pulled nine players behind the ball whenever they surrendered possession. And their defensive discipline in that opening 45 minutes was exemplary.
South Africa played an amount of ball in the central positions and brought full-backs Gaxa and Masilela forward at every opportunity to stretch Ireland's defence. But they never succeeded in troubling goalkeeper Keiren Westwood.
Caleb Folan - clearly determined to play his way into Trapattoni's selection plans for upcoming internationals - showed pace and determination as he drove into the penalty area in pursuit of his own flicked header.
Centre-back Gould ignored the ball and ran squarely into Folan as goalkeeper Fernandez raced off his line to collect the ball. Folan was floored and spent the next eleven minutes in the dressing-room receiving four stitches to a cut over the eyebrow.
It should, of course, have been a penalty but no such luck for the Irish. Manager Trapattoni was not slow to show his agitation at the non-decision on the sideline !
The justification for claiming a penalty was illustrated perfectly in the 39th minute when Andy Keogh knocked a ball down the sideline and gave chase. Mokoena, South Africa's second centre-back, ran boldly across Keogh's path to send him flying. The referee awarded a free and booked Mokoena.
Happily for Ireland, South Africa's preparedness to check opponents by bodily obstruction paid a glorious dividend four minutes before this incident. Again Folan was the aggrieved party for as he protected the ball in a central position, 30 yards from goal, he was strong-armed off the ball by Mhlongo.
Liam Lawrence's first attempt at the free was deflected by Pienaar who was promptly booked for charging too early. Lawrence composed himself and spun the free gloriously over the wall of defenders at the second attempt and high into the corner of the net well, beyond the reach of goalkeeper Fernandez.
Such precision and power was deserving of so glorious a reward and how Ireland celebrated. With one incisive thrust they had produced a magnificent lead goal and in response South Africa could only point to a shot into the side-netting by Masilela as the half-time whistle sounded.
Folan's lengthy absence while receiving treatment was one reason why South Africa were able to command possession for so long in the first half. They also operated with five players across midfield and a lone spearhead so the numerical advantage, allied to the multitude of players they used in central midfield ensured they had more of the play.
Ireland were much more competitive in this area in the second half and the goal gave them the confidence to use the ball more constructively. Lawrence, especially, began to grow more confidently into the game and played an increasing part in Ireland's developing performance.
He was heavily involved in a beautiful piece of inter-play in the 61st minute when Ireland made three substantial strikes at goal. Lawrence first turned a glorious pass into the path of the sprinting Best whose shot from 12 yards was parried by the goalkeeper
The rebound fell to Best who heeled the ball for Folan to strike a shot that was charged down. Lawrence closed quickly and his shot in the crowded goalmouth flew outside off the fallen Gould. It looked suspiciously like a deflection off Gould's hand, but a corner was the decision.
Ireland's youthful team showed plenty of composure whenever they succeeded in getting players in support of the front runners. The introduction of Leon Best was a very positive influence for his energy and hard running over the closing 30 minutes was a big plus for Ireland.
His vigorous support of Folan meant that the tiring South Africa defence was tested several times in the closing quarter and with Ireland secure at the back where Darren O'Dea slotted in smoothly, Ireland always looked comfortable. They never, however, succeeded in controlling midfield and lacked a dominant figure capable of dictating the pace of the game and bring a more constructive pattern to Ireland's play.
Still the match offered Giovanni Trapattoni a fresh list of options should any of his regulars be unable to report for upcoming matches. Especially satisfying were the contributions from Eddie Nolan, Liam Lawrence, Caleb Folan, Stephen Kelly, Leon Best and O'Dea while goalkeeper Keiren Westwood was exemplary in his work all night.
Republic of Ireland: Keiren Westwood; Stephen Kelly, Sean St. Ledger, Paul McShane (Darren O'Dea 62), Eddie Nolan; Liam Lawrence, Darron Gibson, Keith Andrews, Andy Keogh (Damien Duff 78); Kevin Doyle - captain (Leon Best 59), Caleb Folan.
South Africa: Fernandez; Gaxa, Mokoena, Gould, Masilela (Thwala 78); Van Heerden (Mabhudi 59), Parker (Tshabalala 63), Dikgacoi (Ngobeni 81), Pienaar, Mhlongo; Mphela (Kenyekane 74).
|Referee: Mr. Craig Gordon (Scotland).|