By Damian Dolan.
“You’ll never beat the Irish” they sang and how right they were, although a stand out display by goalkeeper David Forde, who pulled off a string of fine saves, particularly in the second half, was needed to give Giovanni Trapattoni’s men a 1-1 draw at Wembley on Wednesday night.
Fitting perhaps, though, that the first meeting between the Republic of Ireland and England since 1995 should end in an amicable draw, and a repeat of the result the last time the sides met at Wembley in 1991.
On that occasion a Niall Quinn goal salvaged a draw for the Irish – this time Ireland struck first, courtesy of a header from the leaping Shane Long that Quinn would have been proud of.
The delivery from man of the match Seamus Coleman was inch perfect, with Long guiding his header past the outstretched left hand of Joe Hart with precision accuracy. Those in green erupted at the opposite end of the ground. It was what they’d poured out of Wembley Park station and up Olympic Way to see.
For this was no ordinary friendly – not to be confused with the kind where everyone seems to be going through the motions and watching paint dry can be more entertaining. This was Ireland v England, and despite the customary second half avalanche of substitutions it retained its competitive edge throughout.
Irish joy at Long’s stunning header, though, was short-lived, ten minutes to be precise. Ireland’s failure to deal with Daniel Sturridge’s cross saw the ball break kindly into the path of Frank Lampard, and he tucked it past Forde from close range. It was a scrappy goal and Trapattoni, while conceding in his post-match press conference that England deserved a draw, will have been disappointed with the manner of it.
A competitive and combative first half gave way to a measure of England dominance after the break. Irish chances would be few and far between. Forde had done all that was asked of him in the first 45 – his handling in particular was clean and assured – and he would be called upon late on to deny Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott and ensure Ireland maintained their 28-year unbeaten record against England. The Irish celebrated the final whistle like they’d won the World Cup itself.
1985 was the last time England claimed victory over the Irish – a 2-1 win at Wembley. Euro 88 bucked that trend and started the ball rolling for seven years of intriguing, intense rivalry that came to an end at Lansdowne Road in 1995 when crowd trouble infamously caused the game to the abandoned with Ireland leading 1-0 thanks to David Kelly’s goal.
After 18 years it was nice to see that nothing has changed. Friendly or not, there was still an added bite to some of the challenges.
Thankfully events off the field passed off without incident and as FAI CEO John Delaney exclusively revealed to the Irish World in this week, it’s now all eyes on Dublin in February 2015 for the rematch – exactly 20 years after the abandonment at Lansdowne Road.
On the field, for Trapattoni it was the night when the likes of young guns Forde, Long, James McCarthy and Coleman came of age.
“They needed this experience and they will learn from it,” he said. “I look at my group, and three or four are young. They need experience. Only against a great team and great players can they grow.
“I am happy from what I saw: James McCarthy, Seamus Coleman. Shane Long was clearly the best on the pitch.
“I asked the players to show we can play without fear. I know what this result meant because I saw they were a bit tense in the dressing room.
“I didn’t want to put more pressure on them. I wanted to give them trust and confidence. They took my advice and accepted my message. The next friendly game against Spain will be another great opportunity.”
“I think in 90 minutes, the result was right. England in the second half had more possession, but we already knew the great personality that England have. They are one of the three or four strongest countries in football.”
Ireland now face Georgia in Dublin on June 2 before their World Cup qualifier against the Faroe Islands on June 7 at the Aviva. They then head to New York to play world champions Spain on June 11.
England: Joe Hart (Ben Foster 46), Glen Johnson (Phil Jones 46), Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill, Ashley Cole (Leighton Baines 53), Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (James Milner 87), Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge (Jermaine Defoe 33).
Republic of Ireland: David Forde, Seamus Coleman, John O’Shea, Stephen Kelly, Sean St Ledger, James McCarthy, Glenn Whelan (Jeff Hendrick 74), Jon Walters (Conor Sammon 82), Aiden McGeady (James McClean 68), Shane Long, Robbie Keane (Simon Cox 66).