Monday, 2 June 2014
Italy 0 v 0 Republic of Ireland
Saturday 31st May 2014
Craven Cottage, Fulham
Match Rating: 4
For what will almost certainly be my last game of the season – my 101st – this match completed a rather nice symmetry to my travels, watching the Irish national team this evening having seen my first game of the season in Ireland last July.
Craven Cottage is a stadium that I have visited many times previously, and has not changed since my previous visits, although apparently some “improvements” to boost the capacity of the stadium will take place soon, although it will be interesting to see if these plans may be put on hold following Fulham’s relegation from the Premier League. As the stadium currently stands, it is definitely one of my favourites, a delightful mix of tradition, character and modern facilities, whilst today for the first time, having a couple of hours to spare on my arrival in Putney, I walked along the opposite bank of the River Thames to see the stadium from the other side of the river. A 76 page programme was produced for this game, with a glossy cover and in full colour. It was an entertaining read, with interesting articles about both nations and the host club, although it did seem to lack considerably in background information to this game.
This would be an interesting game, with this being Italy’s last match before coach Cesare Prandelli selects his final squad for the World Cup finals in Brazil, a campaign they will commence against England on 14th June. They qualified for the tournament in style, after finishing as runners-up at Euro 2012, finishing top of their group with six wins and four draws from their ten games. This match would be preparation for the start of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign for the Republic of Ireland, having failed to qualify for the World Cup finals after a disappointing qualifying campaign which saw them finish fourth in the six team group, which signalled the end for the previous Italian coach, Giovanni Trappatoni. Tonight would be coach Martin O’Neill’s fifth game in charge of Ireland, assisted by Roy Keane perhaps for the last time as a move to manage Celtic looks very likely within the next week. When the team news was announced, it was clear that not too much could be read into Italy’s performance this evening, with many of their big names resting on the bench, including Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Pirlo, Daniele de Rossi, Mario Balotelli and Adriano Cassano, whilst Ireland also gave an opportunity to some fringe players, missing both talisman Robbie Keane and their best defender Richard Dunne.
On an overcast but very warm evening, this game started much as one might have predicted, with Italy making the early running and showing some delightful touches and flicks, forcing Ireland to concentrate on defending. The game was halted on 15 minutes when Riccardo Montilivo suffered what turned out to be a broken leg following a very strong but legal challenge from Alex Pearce, signalling the end of Montilivo’s World Cup dream. This seemed to affect the Italians, as the Irish had a good spell, carving out plenty of goalscoring opportunities, but a goalless scoreline remained at half time – parity was a reasonable reflection on the endeavours of the two teams, although not the lack of goals.
Ireland came out in the second half much the better team, having several chances on goal in the opening five minutes, and with Italy looking sluggish and uninspired, Prandelli introduced Cassano and de Rossi. On 55 minutes, just before he was replaced, Ciro Immobile had a goal disallowed for offside, whilst his replacement, Cassano, hit a powerful shot at goalkeeper David Forde, who looked secure and lively throughout. Those were rare attacks by the Italians, and Ireland almost scored the winner they deserved ten minutes from time when Stephen Quinn thumped a shot from a James McClean cross against the underside of the crossbar, before passing the rebound to Aiden McGeady, whose shot was saved by Salvatore Sirigu, who also had an excellent game. A goal looked possible for the remainder of the game, but goalless was how it finished, but this was a most entertaining game of football, full of attacking endeavour and commitment – all it lacked was goals.