Emotion is as much a part of football as the spherical thing they kick around a field for ninty minutes. It’s why television producers and camera men focus on the tear drenched fan with the tricolour slapped across his face; why there are replays of players celebrating; why stewards have to surround the pitch at the end of a match. Emotion is what football, and sport in general, can evoke in even the most stone-hearted of us.
What we witnessed in Poznan wasn’t exactly positive for the Irish team. Shay Given made two mistakes that, were he any other player, he would have been criticised for. To criticise Given however, would be like condemning a puppy for ‘that’ mess on the carpet: he knows what he did wrong and he’ll try not to do it again. After all he’s been a loyal pup, so there’s no reason to rub his nose in it, especially after he’s won so many games for us on the way to the Euros (the metaphor got a bit lost at the end).
Ireland lacked a midfield enforcer. A Roy Keane, who eats Croatian elbows for breakfast, fixes a broken leg with duct tape, and wears a Ballerina slipper with a steel toe. Luka Modric can hardly be called an enforcer, indeed a 9-year old boy with fun snaps would cut a more intimidating figure. What the 5”8 midfielder lacks in strength however, he makes up for with a remarkable ability to control the tempo of a game. When Modric sat back, Croatia defended and looked to break; when Modric pressed, Croatia attacked. Judging Modric by the number of goals he scores, or even assists, is unfair, because he sets so many plays in motion, setting up the man who gets the assist.
Ireland’s much maligned central midfield pairing of Keith Andrews and Glenn Whelan didn’t function. Wasn’t their role to shut down central midfield as an attacking option for the other team, then spread the ball to the more threatening wingers or ‘Jack Charlton’ it to the two frontmen? Instead, Andrews spent the game playing off scraps at the edge of the box and sending the ball wide of the goal; he was Ireland’s biggest attacking threat, more of a testament to a failure of tactics than his tenaciousness. Glenn Whelan will need to brush up on his computer hacking skills, because Anonymous will surely be looking to recruit the Stoke man after today’s performance. Apparently he played the full game.
Ireland also failed to utilise their frontmen properly. Robbie Keane received virtually nothing, and was reduced to continually tracking back in order to even touch the ball. Doyle, who gets as much balls in the air as a PanAm Air Hostess, caused problems whenever the ball was hoofed in his direction, winning his fair share above the two central defenders, and drawing fouls from Vedran Corluka. But the service, again, was limited.
Croatia did their job, and no more. They showed an eye for goal, which included some impressive shooting from distance, and they wasted as much time as they could, despite their two goal cushion. Neither team showed signs of putting it up to the group big boys, Spain and Italy.
The only victory Ireland got came from the stand, where, at 3-1 down, fans continued to sing ‘The Fields of Athenry’. Even if it was the pop-version of the song, the swell of pride was undeniable. Happy to dampen the Croats’ victory somewhat, the travelling Irish fans sang defiantly, as they did from the start of the match when a victory was palpable.
It is the emotion only football can bring out, and at that, only in Irish fans. The mood of those wearing green in Poznan is a typically Irish one: happy to be a bit unhappy. We hate the rain, but love to talk about it: similarly, we’ll take some serious mileage from some of Bjorn Kuipers’ questionable decision making.
The only thing missing from the jubilation was a win, the ‘W’ next to Ireland’s name on the Euro 2012 scorecards. With that in mind, it seems the only way to finish up is by bastardizing a Friday Night Lights quote: “This team needs a W, this country needs a W, these fans deserve a W.”
by Daniel Keenan