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Dublin: 5°C Tuesday 1 December 2020

Ireland running out of Euro 2020 chances as they are outclassed in Swiss defeat

Seamus Coleman was sent off as Mick McCarthy’s side fell to a 2-0 loss in Geneva.

Switzerland 2

Republic of Ireland 0

THE NIGHT MICK McCarthy went back to the drawing board, but he might yet have to redeploy the chalk to draw the outline of his team’s ambitions on the footpath. 

A 2-0 defeat in Geneva – made worse by Seamus Coleman’s late red card – leaves Ireland staring into a winner-takes-all crescendo with Denmark next month. 

james-mcclean-and-jeff-hendrick-dejected-after-the-game James McClean and Jeff Hendrick react at full-time. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

McCarthy surprised all by starting with a 3-5-2 formation against the Swiss, but it couldn’t mask the team’s underlying issues, in which their use of the ball was poor, their tactics muddled and their goalscoring chances non-existent. 

The Irish manager started with a back three/five for the first time in this campaign, ostensibly to match the Swiss for numbers in midfield. Curiously, Enda Stevens started at left centre-back rather than as a wing-back, in spite of playing the latter role for his club. 

For all the variation, the verities remained. 

Ireland’s use of the ball, particularly by the centre-backs ranged from poor to desperate. The pitch passed a late inspection but was shocking nonetheless, which less levelled the playing field than exposed more brutally Ireland’s inferior technique.  

McClean’s maddening carelessness in possession was frequent in Georgia but fateful tonight. He sliced the ball out of play under no pressure on the left wing, and the Swiss swept upfield from the resulting throw-in. The ball ultimately broke to Haris Seferovic on the edge of the box, who supplied the dead-eyed finish. 

McCarthy abandoned his 3-5-2 experiment midway through the half, reshaping to something approaching a 4-1-4-1. This ultimately meant Connolly leading the line with McClean switched to the right-wing and Collins on the left, a strange set of compromises that are difficult to imagine were subject to much training ground rigour. 

While Ireland improved slightly in this formation – it at least lessened the distributing onus on the trio of center-halves – they created precious little, bar a tame Collins shot in the penalty area and the standard Shane Duffy header from a corner, which was straight at Sommer. 

It was interesting to watch Connolly as Ireland toiled. He kept gesturing for his team-mates to play the ball over the top, and when they inevitably knocked it sideways instead he threw his arms in the air in exasperation. 

It was past the hour mark by the time Ireland finally slung an early ball his way, Shane Duffy’s pass was overhit, but Connolly raised an arm in gratitude. He fed off less than scraps, though, and left on 70 minutes for Scott Hogan. It was difficult to distinguish the pitch’s sodden clumps from the furrow he had lonely ploughed. 

The Swiss, meanwhile, carried on looking threatening. Stephan Lichsteiner was allowed to waltz through the Irish midfield and pull a shot wide, while Seferovic made a hames of a straightforward chance in the six-yard box. 

Callum O’Dowda replaced Collins at the break and made an immediate impact in winning a free-kick, as Ireland – particularly through Alan Browne – began to grow into the game. Ireland still didn’t create a chance of note, though. 

That was the Swiss’ role: Schar headed a corner off the post, while Embolo could only slice a return pass over the bar. 

Then the moment the dam seemed to burst. The Swiss carved Ireland open down their right, and worked the ball to the outstanding Breel Embolo, who found himself in too much space in the box. His shot was blocked by Seamus’ Coleman’s hands, for which he was given a second yellow card, having been booked earlier for feuding with Xhaka. 

Darren Randolph, however, did as he has often done and kept Ireland alive by clawing Rodriguez’ penalty onto the post.

Alan Browne filled in at right-back, and while Ireland battled gamely – Glenn Whelan picking himself up from cramp to throw himself in front of a Seferovic shot in added time its sweat-drenched testament. 

darren-randolph-saves-a-penalty Darren Randolph saves the penalty. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Switzerland would score again, as Shane Duffy diverted Fernandes’ goal-bound shot into his own net in a desperate bid to send it anywhere else. 

It was the very last kick of the game, and now Ireland raise their glass in the last chance saloon with cause to ask themselves – what, exactly, has changed? 

Martin O’Neill too ended with an Irish team unable to weave consistent patterns of play, experiment with a back three formation that was often abandoned when a game needed chasing. 

O’Neill, of course, ended his final qualification campaign with an effective play-off with Denmark. Perhaps the result will be different this time, but on the evidence of the last four days – that is an exercise in devotion and hope. 

Switzerland: Yann Sommer; Stephan Lichtsteiner (Romo Freuler, 70′); Nico Elvedi, Fabian Schar, Manuel Akanji; Ricardo Rodriguez; Granit Xhaka, Denis Zakaria, Admir Mehmedi (Edilmilson Fernandes, 28′); Breel Embolo (Renato Steffen, 87′), Haris Seferovic 

Republic of Ireland: Darren Randolph; Seamus Coleman; Shane Duffy, John Egan, Enda Stevens; James McClean; Jeff Hendrick, Glenn Whelan, Alan Browne; James Collins (Callum O’Dowda, HT)  Aaron Connolly (Scott Hogan, 70′) 

Referee: Symon Marciniak (Poland)

About the author:

Gavin Cooney  / reports from Stade de Geneva, Switzerland

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