John O'Shea grabbed a last-minute equaliser for the Republic of Ireland against Germany last night to blow Group D wide open in the Euro 2016 qualifiers.
It turned out to be a fairytale night for O’Shea – who marked his 100th cap in the finest way possible, ruling out Toni Kroos’ fine opening strike for the Germans.
Group to watch
The group itself has quickly become the one to watch with just three games played. Germany would have been expecting to top the group with nine points at this stage, but having lost to Poland and now drawing at home to the Republic, a challenging task lies ahead for Jogi Löw’s side.
Irish fans would have been disappointed to see Poland beating Germany at the weekend. Not only did it make the Poles favourites for second place, it also made the Germans “wounded animals,” as Roy Keane described them in the build-up.
The home side were certainly wounded last night, but they didn't come out fighting as we expected. Apart from when Erik Durm’s stunning effort from 25 yards hit the crossbar after five minutes, the world champions offered little to trouble the Irish defence. Ireland’s back four of Meyler, Wilson, O’Shea and Ward held firm until the 71st minute – when Kroos was allowed a couple of yards on the edge of the box and scored via the post.
Huge credit for this result must go to the away goalkeeper David Forde. With Shay Given returning to the Ireland set up Martin O’Neill may have been tempted to give Irish legend more games. However O’Neil stood by Forde and it paid off last night. Apart from a nervy moment dealing with a Marc Wilson backpass in the second half, the 34-year old fully justified his position as No.1 with some important saves – including a key stop when Mario Götze tried to loft it over him from close range.
O’Neill was adamant his side were coming to Gelsenkirchen looking for a result and wasn’t interested in any “moral victories”.
“There’s great credit due to the players. It’s a fantastic effort by the team. We could have [conceded a second] but what’s the point in sitting back? I don’t mind losing a second goal if we’re looking for an equaliser. I don’t want moral victories. I want us to compete. The response from the players after going behind was terrific,” - Martin O'Neill
This result, which adds to recent defeats against Poland and Argentina as well as a poor display against Scotland, means an inquest will begin from the German media. With key players like Philipp Lahm, Per Mertesacker and Miroslav Klose retiring after the World Cup, Löw’s men are finding the initial period of transition difficult. Of course the fact Bastian Schweinsteiger is injured until the new year doesn't help, but with talents like Julian Draxler coming through, more is expected from this gifted side.
“From our point of view it’s extremely annoying not to have won the game,” Löw told the press. “Ireland had one single chance in the very final second and managed to equalise. On the other hand, if anybody is to blame it can only be ourselves”.
“We lost possession far too easily in the final stages and there were too many misplaced passes.”
“We also passed back to [Manuel] Neuer too often and he then just kicked them back. We showed a lot of nervousness in the final five minutes of the game and conceded too many chances to let them rise again."
For the Republic, this result will give fans a great deal of belief in the O’Neill project. Under Giovanni Trapattoni results like this were few and far between. You would have to go back to Bari in 2009 when Ireland clinched a late equaliser through Robbie Keane – drawing 1-1 with then world champions, Italy.
Ultimately, Ireland’s fate will rely on results against Poland and Scotland but this result will certainly give them a lot of confidence going into those games.
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