Please, can we get on with the finals? The Republic of Ireland moved into the last phase of their seven-month fine-tune for Euro 2016 by letting slip what should have been a comfortable victory against an off-colour Holland but it has long since reached the point where supporters are desperate for the real business to begin.
The main idea was for Martin O’Neill to consider the merits of a clutch of fringe players, with his squad still not finalised, and the midfielder Harry Arter seized the occasion with a man-of-the-match display. Otherwise, the evening was notable for Shane Long’s goal and the manner in which Ireland controlled proceedings.
But the black mark came in the 85th minute when the Ireland defence, previously so convincing, was caught cold by a tantalising cross from the Holland left-back, Jetro Willems. O’Neill wondered whether Darren Randolph, the goalkeeper, should have stayed on his line while Shane Duffy lost Luuk de Jong and the substitute headed what was a scarcely deserved equaliser.
O’Neill was nonetheless entitled to believe that the positives outweighed the negatives in terms of the performance and he will now look forward to Tuesday’s final friendly against Belarus in Cork before he names his travelling party for France. O’Neill said that he would make changes for Belarus, with Robbie Keane and Daryl Murphy set to start.
Opportunity knocked here for Arter, together with Stephen Quinn and David McGoldrick, with the feeling that there remain three places up for grabs in the squad. Arter staked a firm claim on one of them. He was fired up, putting in a couple of heavy challenges – he was booked for a lunge at Memphis Depay – but his was a polished and forward-thinking display.
McGoldrick, playing in the No10 role, had a few nice moments and what might count in his favour is that he can play in more than one position. Quinn was wholehearted from the outset.
There were nerves in the early stages from O’Neill’s squad hopefuls, flashes of the good and the bad but the breakthrough goal had a calming effect. It was McGoldrick’s raking crossfield ball for the always impressive Seamus Coleman that led to the corner and, when Robbie Brady took it, John O’Shea got the run on Virgil van Dijk. His header was kept out by a combination of Jasper Cillessen and what looked like a hand from Vincent Janssen but the penalty appeals were superseded by Long’s bundled finish.
Brady’s set-piece delivery was a positive feature of the evening and how O’Neill will hope that the left-back can replicate such precision in France. He created a flurry of chances early in the second half from both free-kicks and corners, with Jon Walters working Cillessen from one and Duffy and Long heading over from two more. Duffy glanced another one wide late on and his aerial threat is a weapon.
These are strange times for Holland, the European powerhouses that have been reduced to playing second fiddle on occasions such as these by dint of their failure to qualify for France. How they fell short of a tournament that was enlarged to make sure that none of the major nations missed out has led to soul-searching but it is Danny Blind’s task to look to the future. The manager did so here by picking a starting XI with an average outfield age of 23.
There was the usual technical proficiency from the Dutch but little by way of incision. Janssen extended Randolph with a header back from a tight angle on 69 minutes but, for the most part, the Ireland defence looked secure. And yet they were made to suffer when Willems whipped in one of his excellent left-footed crosses and De Jong was all alone to equalise. Such lapses cannot occur at the finals.
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