THREE DEFEATS, NO points but – at the very, very least – a tiny element of pride restored.
Whatever about the eventual nature of the loss to Italy, it perhaps says a lot about the tournament as a whole that all of the results might have been a bit more acceptable had they panned out like this.
Sure, Ireland may have again been ultimately outclassed by a superior side. But, this time, they didn’t make it too easy for them.
In pretty much all areas, it was an improved performance from the off.
Indeed, that was signalled from the off when Ireland finally avoided conceding in the opening moments.
What’s more, they actually had much the better of the opening exchanges. A more proactive Ireland pressed high up the pitch in a manner we’ve rarely seen under Giovanni Trapattoni.
There even appeared an extra energy and application. You could sense the drive and determination to make up for previous defeats. Where once Ireland were second to everything, here they were first.
It also lent weight to Trapattoni’s claim that it wasn’t inherent flaws but stage fright that so affected earlier Irish performances. Of course, all of that also had to be put in the context of Italy suddenly feeling the anxiety. Whereas Ireland were released by only playing for pride, Italy were weighed down by pressure.
But, for a period, it was tempting to ponder what might have been.
Then, of course, we got a timely reminder of why exactly it isn’t like that.
Italy altered their shape, Andrea Pirlo finally seized control of the midfield, Antonio Di Natale began t get in behind the Irish defence and, most importantly, as a result of all that pressure, Ireland made more of the individual errors that have so dogged this tournament. Glenn Whelan turned his back on a corner, Shay Given let Antonio Cassano’s header slip past him.
All the worse, it was yet another set-piece – supposedly a staple of the Trapattoni era. And that was that.
From there, despite the late anxiety Trapattoni caused Italy with his subs before another replacement – in Mario Balotelli – settled the game, Italy largely controlled the game.
No longer required to push for the win, they were finally able to treasure possession.
Soon, they were treasuring a place in the quarter-finals.
- The tournament is over for Ireland
- A markedly improved performance in pretty much all areas
- The early attitude, particularly the high nature of the pressing… where was this before?
- Unless Sweden improbably lose by seven goals, Ireland will officially be the worst team at Euro 2012
- The likely swansong for legends like Damien Duff and Shay Given. A pity the tune wasn’t sweeter
- For all Trapattoni’s talk of little details, Ireland conceded both goals at set-pieces.That is unforgivable
- Keith Andrews – who had arguably been Ireland’s stand-out player throughout the tournament – losing his cool