Iceland sneak victory over Republic of Ireland in awful Aviva spectacle
THE beautiful game it wasn’t. In the history of dire football matches, last night’s friendly international in Dublin between the Republic of Ireland and Iceland would top the pile.
It’s true expectations weren’t high after a round of World Cup Qualifiers just four nights earlier – but it was a particularly woeful spectacle.
Even the famed Icelandic Viking slow clap lacked its usual verve as the game petered out.
It was so bad that these two nations should be banned from ever playing each other again.
It was one of those games you thought would never end.
Last night’s second half was pockmarked by an endless stream of substitutions, and the game descended further into the abyss.
It was an utterly shapeless affair with no redeeming features.
Hordu Bjorgvin Magnusson’s 21st minute free-kick proved the decisive moment to see off their hosts in a game that was devoid of incident and goalmouth action.
Indeed, the grounds-man could easily have taken down the goalposts at both ends of the field long before the final whistle and both sets of players would have been none the wiser.
Its drab nature was perhaps aided by the sickening injury to Seamus Coleman that still hung in the air from last Friday night.
The Ireland skipper suffered a double fracture to his right leg and won’t feature in the remainder of the side’s World Cup Qualifiers in Group D.
From an Irish perspective, the only quality on show came from Robbie Brady, who captained the side in Coleman’s absence having missed the scoreless draw against Wales last Friday through suspension.
Brady sent in a succession of crosses and corners in the second half but the imposing Icelandic defence stood strong and protected their goalkeeper Ogmudur Kritinsson with fanatical diligence.
There were only four survivors from last Friday night’s scoreless draw with Wales.
Jeff Hendrick and James McClean both started against Iceland, with the latter playing in a more advanced, supporting role to the recalled Kevin Doyle who’s now plying his trade with Colorado Rapids.
Aiden McGeady and Cyrus Christie, second half substitutes in the Welsh game, got the nod as O’Neill made sweeping changes for last night’s friendly clash.
The Republic manager also gave debuts to John Egan of Brentford, who slotted in at central defence alongside Alex Pearce, and Aston Villa’s attack-minded midfielder Conor Hourihane.
With McClean pushed inside, Jonathan Hayes got the chance to impress down Ireland’s left flank.
The visitors boasted a vast array of the stars that shocked England in last summer’s Euro 2016 finals, notably Ragnar Sigurdsson and Aaron Sigurdarson, both of whom scored in their side’s World Cup Qualifier win over Kosovo last Friday night.
While last night’s friendly game would have been a huge deal to international rookies such as Egan, Hourihane, Hayes, Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle the occasion really did struggle for relevance.
To have a friendly a few days after the Welsh tie seemed peculiar given that Ireland’s next competitive encounter is two-and-a-half months away against Austria (Sunday June 11).
The opening half was at best functional. Defensively, the home side looked jittery.
Cyrus Christie continued where he left off against Wales with some sloppy passes that never looked like reaching their target.
Pearce also struggled and fouled too readily, but it was Egan’s pull on Kjartan Henry Finnbogason that led to the visitors breaking the deadlock on 21 minutes.
After much conferring between three Icelandic players over who was going to take the free-kick, Magnusson took aim and his left footed effort ended up nestling in the bottom corner of Ireland’s net.
Keiren Westwood, deputising for first choice ‘keeper Darren Randolph, had no chance of saving Magnusson’s fine strike, but he was right to have higher expectations of his defensive wall as the ball squirmed between the heads of Hendrick and Hourihane.
There was little to savour in the home side’s performance in the opening half, and even less in the second.
McClean was busy and chased down a lot of lost causes.
For the second night running Hendrick failed to impress. His midfield partner Hourihane was marginally better.
McGeady threatened early on but nothing came off for him. Kevin Doyle, though, was a shaft of light for the manager.
Doyle may be 33 but he still looked light on his feet and may have done enough to come back in from the wilderness when O’Neill announces his squads for the Uruguay friendly and Austria clash in June.
Daryl Horgan was one of four substitutions made in the 64th minute – and the former Dundalk winger was probably the pick of the bunch.
After his first cross sailed high and wide he put three excellent balls into the danger area but no green jersey could get on the end of them.
Callum O’Dowda, rather surprisingly, only got the last quarter of an hour to impress – and he did offer more penetration from a central area.
His 76th minute dribble, however, was stopped in its tracks.
Iceland, in fairness, didn’t threaten Westwood’s goal in the second half. They seemed happy with their one goal advantage and were content to sit deep and deny Ireland’s forwards any space in the penalty area.
As expected, the entire night was a bit of an anti-climax. It’s a game that deserves to be airbrushed from all those who made the journey to the Aviva Stadium last night.
Both Ireland and Iceland move on and will look forward to retaining their healthy World Cup qualifying group positions come June.
Rep of Ireland: Westwood, Christie, Pearce, Egan (Boyle 63), Brady, McGeady (O’Dowda 72), Hendrick (Gleeson 63), Hourihane (O’Kane 63), Hayes (Horgan 62), McClean (Long 72), Kevin Doyle.
Subs Not Used: Colin Doyle, Keogh, Ward, Meyler, Randolph.
Iceland: Kristinsson, Saevarsson (Vidar Jonsson 85), Olafur Ingi Skulason (Smarason 79), Ingason, Ragnar Sigurdsson (Eyjolfsson 52), Magnusson, Gislason (Ari Freyr Skulason 88), Gunnarsson, Aron Sigurdarson (Omarsson 65), Finnbogason (Karlsson 71), Bodvarsson.
Subs Not Used: Halldorsson, Kjartansson, Ingvar Jonsson, Arnason, Bjorn Sigurdarson.
Goals: Magnusson 21.
Ref: Jakob Kehlet (Denmark)
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND RATINGS
Keiren Westwood: Winning his 20th cap, the Sheffield Wednesday ’keeper was right to expect more of his defensive wall which allowed Hordu Bjorgvin Magnusson to find the corner of the net. 6
Cyrus Christie: The Derby County full-back has really impressed in his fledgling international career but he has now put two ropey performances back-to-back which might prompt the manager to consider someone else for the right back spot in Seamus Coleman’s absence. 4
Robbie Brady: Captain for the night, the Burnley man dropped into the left back slot and did well. Slung in some dangerous crosses from the left that tested the Icelandic defence. 7
Alex Pearce: Winning just his eighth cap, the Derby County man looked a little nervous in the opening half but steadier second half as the game lost any lingering tempo it boasted. 5
John Egan: Making his senior debut, the 24-year-old Brentford defender might have conceded the foul that led to Iceland’s first half strike, but he improved as the game wore won before his 64th minute withdrawal. 5
Jeff Hendrick: Didn’t impress against Wales and struggled again last night in a slightly different midfield role. With Burnley facing Spurs at the weekend, he was called ashore after 64 minutes. 5
Aiden McGeady: Rightly recalled to the starting line-up after his excellent cameo role against Wales but his 88th international appearance wasn’t so memorable. Threatened a couple of times. 5
Conor Hourihane: The 26-year-old Aston Villa midfielder had some good moments in his debut appearance. Made a couple of excellent interceptions when tracking back and was thoughtful in his passes. 6
Kevin Doyle: On the fringes and sometimes beyond the fringes over the last four years, Doyle still looks sprightly at 33. Held the ball up well, movement was good but no real goal chances. 6
Jonathan Hayes: The Aberdeen winger was winning his third cap and first start and was full of industry down Ireland’s left. Can’t be faulted for effort. 6
James McClean: The WBA man was released from the wing to play up front with Kevin Doyle. Worked his socks off and got a rousing reception when withdrawn in the 72nd minute. 6
Daryl Horgan: The former Dundalk winger, now with Preston NE, entered for Hayes and put two brilliant crosses in from his side. 6
Eunan O’Kane: Replaced Hourihane after 64 minutes. Showed urgency and punched his passes. 6
Stephen Gleeson: The Birmingham City midfielder came in for Hendrick. Some good short passes around midfield. 5
Andy Boyle: Rewarded for his super displays for Dundalk last season, the Preston NE defender had a mixed night. 5
Shane Long: Given a run-out for the last 15 minutes but couldn’t lift the gloom. 5
Callum O’Dowda: Surprising he didn’t see more game-time last night after featuring in the Qualifier against Moldova. One fine dribble. 5