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Friendly fire as Walters and McClean thunderbolts help Ireland overcome Uruguay

The visitors had got back into the game, after Atletico Madrid’s José Giménez headed home a set piece.

James McClean celebrates his goal.
James McClean celebrates his goal.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

ON A WEEK when there was plenty of talk about Irish strikers, Jon Walters gave a less-than-subtle reminder of his prowess as Ireland overcame Uruguay 3-1 in this evening’s international friendly at the Aviva Stadium.

Goals from the Stoke star, Cyrus Christie and James McClean saw the Boys in Green claim a deserved victory over their South American opponents.

After Walters’ opener, Uruguay had got back into the game, as Atletico Madrid’s José Giménez headed home a set piece after Darren Randolph had come and failed to claim the dangerous ball in.

As is often the case with these type of games, it was a subdued start deprived of any real atmosphere before Walters brought the stadium to life with his terrific opener.

Prior to that magical moment, a curled Robbie Brady effort forced Esteban Conde to parry away for a corner, while Uruguay’s hopes were not helped by star man Edinson Cavani limping off in the opening stages of the match.

Cavani’s replacement Cristhian Stuani managed to break Ireland’s offside trap on 17 minutes, latching on to Carlos Sanchez’s lofted through pass, before volleying tamely at Randolph. Shortly thereafter, the visitors went close again, as Martin Caceres’ header from a Jonathan Urretaviscaya corner hit the crossbar.

Jose Gimenez celebrates his goal Uruguay's Jose Gimenez celebrates his goal. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

After 25 minutes, Ireland were struggling to create chances or pose any real threat with neither Cyrus Christie and Robbie Brady on the right, nor Jonny Hayes and Stephen Ward on the left linking up effectively.

However, a stop-start match suddenly burst into life, as Walters received the ball on the edge of the box, and noticing his opponents backing off, fired an unstoppable shot into the top corner on 27 minutes.

Yet Ireland’s lead would prove relatively short-lived. Darren Randolph had looked a little edgy early on, as his pass across goal was almost intercepted by Cavani, and the West Ham goalkeeper was subsequently punished for sloppy play seven minutes before half-time.

The Bray native came for a tempting free kick but showed nowhere near the requisite level of authority as Giménez rose highest to head into the empty net and earn his side a scarcely deserved equaliser.

Minutes later, Walters was heavily involved again, but it was a case of from the sublime to the ridiculous for the Stoke star.

Christie’s lofted cross was fired back across goal by Robbie Brady and the 33-year-old striker somehow managed to hit the bar with an attempted tap-in from two yards out.

The second half saw an improved Ireland display, with the introduction of the gifted, technically accomplished Wes Hoolahan providing an extra dimension to the attack.

The Norwich star fittingly provided the assist as the lively Christie got the goal his performance deserved. The Derby defender’s shot from the edge of the area took a slight deflection on the way to the corner of the net to restore Ireland’s lead.

Hoolahan was not the only substitute to make a difference. Daryl Murphy made his presence felt after a 59th-minute second-half introduction, winning a 50:50 with Federico Ricca before forcing a decent save from Conde.

Similarly James McClean provided the Irish attack with some much-needed pace after coming on with just under 20 minutes remaining.

The West Brom winger increased Ireland’s lead on 77 minutes, latching on to Daryl Murphy’s incisive through pass before firing home from a tight angle — a goal that was more than a little reminiscent of his winner against the Austrians during the World Cup qualifier in Vienna last November.

McClean almost repeated the trick on 84 minutes, but a last-ditch tackle prevented the 28-year-old from putting further gloss on the scoreline after he had been played through by the influential Hoolahan.

Uruguay ploughed on but rarely threatened in a game that was regularly played at half-pace and felt very much like a typical end-of-season friendly for large periods, but was occasionally lit up by some inspired Irish football.

Republic of Ireland: 21. Darren Randolph (GK) (1. Keiren Westwood ’46), 2. Cyrus Christie, 6. Glenn Whelan (14. Wes Hoolahan ’46), 10. Robbie Brady, 13. Jeff  Hendrick (11. James McClean ’72), 17. Stephen Ward, 18. Kevin Long, 19. Jonathan Walters (9. Daryl Murphy ’59), 20. Shane Duffy (3. Alex Pearce ’59), 22. Harry Arter, 25. Jonny Hayes (7. Aidan McGeady ’59).

Substitutes not used: 16. Colin Doyle (GK), 4. John O’Shea, 5. Richard Keogh, 8. Callum O’Dowda, 12. Andy Boyle, 15. Conor Hourihane, 21. Eunan O’Kane, 24. David McGoldrick, 26. John Egan, 27. Daryl Horgan, 28. Alan Browne.

Uruguay: 12. Esteban Conde (GK), 2. Jose Gimenez, 5. Carlos Sanchez, 6. Diego Laxalt, 8. Jonathan Urretaviscaya, 15. Matias Vecino, 16. Maximiliano Pereira (3. Federico Ricca ’61), 17. Egidio Arevalo Rios, 19. Sebastian Coates, 21. Edinson Cavani (11. Cristhian Stuani ’11), 22. Martin Caceres.

Substitutes not used: 23. Gaston Guruceaga (GK), 4. Alejandro Silva, 9. Diego Rolan, 13. Gaston Silva, 14. Nahitan Nandez, 18. Mathias Corujo, 20. Alvaro Gonzalez.

Referee: Craig Thompson (SCO)

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Paul Fennessy

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