On Thursday night, Republic of Ireland beat Germany 1-0 against all the odds. It was Ireland’s first win over a major country in over ten years. Shane Long came off the bench in the second half to score what proved to be the winner.
The result, combined with Scotland’s failure to beat Poland, meant that Ireland were guaranteed at least a play-off place before last night's game with the Poles, and if Ireland had beaten Robert Lewandowski and co., would have qualified automatically for next summer’s tournament.
The 1-0 victory over the Germans would have given the Irish a lot of confidence going into last night's game away at Poland, but, they sadly lost 2-1 to condemn themselves to a play-off place.
Here’s why Thursday's win happened.
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Germany looked a far cry from world champions on Thursday night. Perhaps they were overconfident. They certainly seemed complacent.
Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil and André Schurrle were all guilty of missing good chances while the experienced Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng were undone at the back by a routine long ball.
As expected, Germany dominated proceedings. They dominated possession, created more chances, won more corners, but the breakthrough goal remained elusive. Ireland defended expertly, and snatched their chance when it presented itself.
Ireland wanted it more
As discussed above, Germany never got out of first gear on Thursday night. Ireland simply seemed to want it more. The Irish players put in an enormous shift, and put their bodies on the line time and time again.
The back four, led by John O’Shea, were alert and decisive throughout. John O’Shea made a vital block to deny Ikay Gundogan, and Richard Keogh made an excellent interception to prevent a certain goal.
James McCarthy, Robbie Brady, Jonathon Walters and Jeff Hendrick worked tirelessly, closing down space and putting in tackles. Walters in particular demonstrated wonderful determination and hold up play late on to preserve the lead.
Ireland struggled to retain the ball, but were relentless in their attempts to win it back. It was a disciplined, rewarding performance.
Players stepping up
Ireland had some injury problems going into the vital clash with Germany, with Seamus Coleman, Stephen Quinn, Ciaran Clark and Harry Arter all missing through injury. James McCLean and Glenn Whelan were also missing through suspension.
Despite this, relative newcomers Cyrus Christie and Richard Keogh (both of Derby) excelled in a well marshalled defence. Despite a few scares, the Ireland back four was immense on the night. Jeff Hendrick also impressed in midfield.
Wes Hoolohan was instrumental in midfield, combining an impressive work ethic with clever touches and creative bursts.
Daryl Murphy was starved of the ball up front, but nevertheless worked hard and acquitted himself well.
Substitutes Darren Randolph and Shane Long vindicated Martin O'Neill's decision to bring them on, as both were involved in the only goal of the game.
A wonderful finish
Shane Long’s goal was a thing of simplistic beauty. Long still had a lot to do after substitute goalkeeper Darren Randolph’s punted the ball upfield. Long timed his run to perfection, running horizontally along the back four to beat the offside trap. His first touch took him away from the German defenders.
His second touch was an emphatic finish into the far top corner, which gave Manuel Neuer no chance.
All in all, it was a night that will live long in the memory of all Irish fans.
After missing out on automatic qualification, do you think we will still see Ireland at Euro 2016? Give YOUR opinion in the comment box below!