In Kashima ten years ago, Robbie Keane ran on to a glancing header from Niall Quinn and slotted the ball past Oliver Kahn to secure a vital point in the 92nd minute of play and send Ireland towards the knockout round of the World Cup. Above the noise of the delirious crowd, the BBC’s John Motson could be heard shouting into his microphone ‘and you can’t say they don’t deserve this’.
Ten years on in Gelsenkirchen, and there was an undoubted sense of déjà vu, albeit on a lesser stage. This time the late heroics came from John O’ Shea. On the night he made his 100th international appearance and wearing the captain’s armband after Keane was replaced. The Waterford-man scored his third and surely most important goal for Ireland. Jeff Hendirck had wonderfully rescued an over-hit cross from the edge of the box and sent it back into the path of O’Shea who, with the instincts of a centre-forward, flicked the ball past the diving Neuer to snatch a point for Martin O’ Neill’s men. And you can’t say Ireland didn’t deserve it.
In truth, Germany were not close to their best and disappointed for the second straight game. For all their domination of possession, they simply could not create enough opportunities within the Irish box and were held largely to long range efforts and set pieces. Even after taking the lead through Toni Kroos, they could not hold on for the remaining twenty minutes, even after the Irish flooded forward. It was a sloppy performance and they will rightfully look back on the game as two dropped points.
Ireland arrived at Gelsenkirchen, in the heart of Germany’s Ruhr region, determined to put in a strong and industrious performance to compete with the reigning World Champions. After a strong start to qualification, Ireland were surely buoyed by Germany’s surprise loss to Poland and sensed an opportunity to surprise the reigning World Champions. Joachim Loew may have rubbished suggestions that his side were entering a period of decline but it was a new look Germany with only five of the players who featured in the final available to take the field against Ireland.
Germany utterly controlled the first twenty minutes of the match. They exuded confidence with the ball at their feet, and Kroos was impressive pulling the strings from central midfield. On the other hand Ireland struggled to keep possession for more than a few touches and looked no more assured in defence. However, as the game went on the German players became visibly more frustrated with their inability to convert possession into shots on goal. Their only chances arrived from set pieces but both attempts failed to force a save from Forde. Ireland had no goal scoring chances for themselves but went into half-time the happier side.
German manager Loew introduced Lukas Podolski immediately upon the restart of the match; with the hope the Arsenal striker could break the deadlock. However his impact was minimal and the ensuing half played out almost as a mirror image of the first. Ireland could not retain the ball for the opening twenty minutes and instead were forced to repel attack after attack from the Germans, who in turn continued their struggles to find a pass in the final third of the pitch and were forced to try from long range.
Ultimately the game-changing moment came from one of Germany’s long range efforts. Kroos, the standout performer of an otherwise disappointing and wasteful German side, found himself with some space at the edge of the Irish box and perfectly placed a strike past the flailing Forde after a favourable touch off the post. O’ Neill, having already removed the ineffective Keane, introduced Darren Gibson and Wes Hoolahan with nothing to lose going on the attack.
The results were immediately visible. Hoolahan almost made an instant impact, running onto a cross from the tireless McClean, but was denied by a superb block from Dürm. The game was opening up, but Germany failed to capitalise on the newfound space. Their sole opportunity to seal the victory came in the 80th minute but the World Cup winner Mario Götze was brilliantly denied by David Forde. The Millwall shot stopper had an excellent second half and was called upon more than once to keep Ireland in the match.
Then as extra time expired, the Irish flooded forwards and were rewarded for their determination when O’Shea stunned the home crowd with the last kick of the match. On a night when Ireland worked tirelessly in defence to frustrate Germany, it was apt that a defender should score the equalising goal. Germany, meanwhile have only themselves to blame. It is true that they were missing key players, André Schürrle among them, but players of real quality missed chances that should really have been taken.
The Irish celebrated the end of the match as if it was a victory and in the long run, the result could prove just as important. O’Neill’s men return to domestic action with seven points from a possible nine and are level with Poland at the top of Group D after the scourges of Germany from the previous weekend were held by Scotland.Group D, long thought to be a battle for the lesser places after Germany now looks open and after three games Ireland find themselves in an excellent position to secure qualification.
Next up for Ireland is Scotland on November 14 in Glasgow followed by Poland in the New Year. It is now important for Ireland to remain grounded and continue what so far looks to be a promising qualifying campaign for Euro 2016.