Dublin (AFP) – Ireland maintained their Euro 2016 momentum with a 1-1 draw against the Netherlands at Lansdowne Road in Dublin on Saturday night.
Martin O’Neill’s side were ahead at half time thanks to Shane Long’s 16th international goal, and looked set for victory only for substitute Luuk de Jong to head home a late equaliser.
Ireland have lost just once since November 2014, and De Jong’s goal was just the fourth they’ve conceded at home in eight games.
It was not the victory O’Neill desired, but there were enough positive performances to give him a testing weekend, mulling over his final 23-man squad.
The Netherlands, who failed to qualify for the European Championships this summer, travelled without some big names, but could still field stars like Jasper Cillessen in goal, Virgil Van Dijk and Memphis Depay.
Ireland, on the other hand, had plenty at stake, with O’Neill using this game as a penultimate audition for the Euros squad.
The warm-up against Belarus in Cork on Tuesday will be D-day for the Irish squad, but this game was a key one for players on the fringe.
Blackburn Rovers defender Shane Duffy, Bournemouth midfielder Harry Arter and Ipswich forward David McGoldrick were the three fighting to prove their worth, along with Reading’s Stephen Quinn, who was a constant in away games during qualification.
Quinn was an energetic presence in midfield but O’Neill will have had his head turned more by the showings of Duffy, Arter and McGoldrick.
The latter, dropping deep and linking play instead of staying up front, played a key role in the opening goal, showing great composure and awareness.
Collecting the ball near the Ireland box, he twisted and turned out of company and, spotting right back Seamus Coleman storming up the wing, lofted a glorious ball over the Dutch defence.
A corner was earned and, not for the first time, Robbie Brady showed his set piece qualities.
The Norwich star curled in a beautiful delivery that, having outwitted Van Dijk, John O’Shea thumped towards goal.
Vincent Janssen appeared to handle on the line, but while O’Shea was appealing for a penalty, Long forced the ball home to halt the protestations, and start the celebrations among the 42,438 crowd.
The Dutch hogged possession but the hosts created the better chances on the night, with Brady, McGoldrick and Arter the main architects.
Arter was giving an all-round display, drawing a save from Cillessen and earning a booking for a strong, but late, tackle on Depay, and he must surely be dusting down his passport.
Duffy was a constant threat in attack and went close with three headers, with the boot of Brady once more delivering top quality ball to attack.
Both sides emptied their benches as the clock ticked by, and eventually the Dutch got the goal they may believe their play warranted.
Unfortunately for Duffy, it was he who switched off to allow sub De Jong to nod home Jetro Willems’s cross, ending Ireland’s seven-game run of clean sheets in Dublin.
A lesson learned for the young defender perhaps, and O’Neill will be thankful it came here, and not in Paris.
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