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Euro 2016

What We Learned – Germany 1 Republic of Ireland 1

john oshea

The recently crowned World Cup champions, Germany, haven’t had the best of starts to their Euro 2016 qualification campaign. They won narrowly against a spirited Scotland side, lost for the first time in their history against Poland and were dramatically denied by a dogged, well-drilled Irish team.

Joachim Löw has been vocal in his belief that his side has not had enough time to recover after their World Cup winning exploits. He also had to contend with the loss of André Schürrle and Christoph Kramer to illness leaving the Germans with just four outfield options and six substitutes on the bench in total. This is on top of absences to key players like Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira.

Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane had a firm and hard strategy for their troops. Defend deep, defend in numbers and hit Germany on the break. The task was made that much harder without Seamus Coleman but for all their defensive planning O’Neill admitted to an interesting tactical gambit playing Aiden McGeady in a free role though he qualified that by saying game circumstances would dictate strategy.

This wasn’t an end-to-end game, it was more of a cat and mouse affair and in dramatic fashion the Irish nicked the cheese.

Possession is nine tenths… 

The Irish had given up all pretenses of battling for the ball in favor of being difficult to break down. O’Neill’s side sat deep at times playing with a back six when the Germans were probing around their area. Robbie Keane cut a lonely figure up the other end.

After a fast start, in both the first and second half the Germans seemed to run out of ideas as to how to break their opponents down. Julian Draxler floated in and out of the game, Erik Durm hit the crossbar with a rasping shot and the Germans tried to execute training ground set-piece moves but nothing seemed to come off for the World Champions.

Then up stepped a Galactico.

Kroos Control: 

Toni Kroos isn’t exactly a prolific goalscorer. This was his eighth international goal in 55 games, but Germany needed something special to break the Irish resistance.  David Forde was solid making a number of big saves and the Germans, up till their 71st minute strike, were spraying the ball back and forth trying to spot a gap in the Irish backline with little reward.

In the end Ireland couldn’t hold out, but it took a precision effort from Kroos to finally find the back of Forde’s net.

Shorn of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira, Kroos stepped up as the team’s senior player and delivered.

O’Neill’s Ireland avoids fall into a familiar Trap:

O’Neill devised a pragmatic game plan to combat the World Champions. Arguably, his predecessor Giovanni Trapattoni would have set-up his side the same way.

However, there is one key difference between the two managers. Trap famously didn’t trust the ability of Irish players whereas O’Neill has confidence in his troops to play with the ball.

Whenever Ireland had possession the players were happy to pass the ball rather than go long all the time. The Irish almost played themselves into trouble though in the 32nd minute when Mark Wilson’s pass was charged down, forcing David Forde to rush out of his area to clear, unconvincingly, leaving the Irish goal exposed.

If Trapattoni had still been in charge of Ireland he would have arguably attempted to keep the score down after Germany took the lead. O’Neill on the other hand made an attacking substitution bringing Wes Hoolahan on and pushed John O’Shea upfront in search of an equalizer. The moves paid spectacular dividends.

Shades of 2002:

In the lead up to the equalizer the FAI (Football Association of Ireland) tweeted somewhat optimistically a reminder of Ireland’s dramatic comeback against Germany in the 2002 World Cup.  What Robbie Keane managed in 2002, John O’Shea matched in 2014 with the last kick of the game.

The Sunderland defender earning his 100th cap could not have chosen a more dramatic manner to celebrate his personal milestone. O’Shea stole a march on Mats Hummels and guided the ball with the outside of his right foot past a despairing Manuel Neuer.

Hoolahan’s introduction saw Ireland play with more positivity. The Norwich man himself would have scored the equalizer earlier had it not been for a fantastic last-ditch tackle from Erik Durm. Hoolahan’s part in the equalizer was to cross the ball into the German box which was then hooked back into the middle by fellow substitute Jeff Hendrick for O’Shea to finish.

Special mentions go to James McLean who put in a good shift defensively and to Forde, who made a decisive save 10 minutes from time to deny Mario Götze and prevent Germany from going two goals up.

Group D – Not the Group of Death… 

But who would have predicted Poland and the Republic of Ireland leading the way with the Germans level with Scotland after three games?

Germany’s next game will be against Gibraltar so nothing less than a resounding win will do for Löw.

The Republic of Ireland travel to Glasgow to face Strachan’s Scotland. It’s an extremely tasty fixture to say the very least.

With Poland performing too, this has been thus far an unexpectedly competitive group.

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