The Boys in Green were convincingly defeated by Sweden at home and the result spells the end of a World Cup dream but also, the end of Giovanni Trapattoni's era
By Micil Glennon
Well, that simplifies matters. Ireland's incredibly frustrating 2-1 defeat to Sweden means that we can put away the calculators and stop worrying about permutations. We'll be watching Brazil 2014 from afar, maybe somewhat comforted by the knowledge that the team and its outdated modus operandi were never good enough to qualify. It's easier to live with that fact than stewing in resentment over a dubious goal set up by a blatant handball.
The result, of course, will spell the end of the Giovanni Trapattoni era and now Ireland will look for another leader, another way forward. And it all started so well. Robbie Keane's stubborn refusal to do anything but persevere was the main reason why the 33-year-old now has 60 international goals. Stay down, stay down, they shouted at Rocky Balboa in those movies. How easy it would have been for Keane to stay down. He'd played his part, got a foot to a lazy back-header, hit the woodwork - let someone else follow up. Not Keane's style.
That was as good as it got. It seemed to be the catalyst that provoked the erstwhile dumbstruck Swedes to wake up. An unmarked Seb Larsson nodded wide with the goal at his mercy but within 11 minutes they were level through Johan Elmader's bullet header. "We had the first half an hour where we did well and had chances," conceded the returning Richard Dunne afterwards. "We were on top but for whatever reason we took our foot off the gas and they started to create chances." James McCarthy agreed: "We sat in a bit and invited the pressure on."
Before the game Keane had said that the tie was "must not lose" but they played, as has too often been the case under Trapattoni against mid-level opposition, as if they were afraid to win. Most teams with any bit of gumption can sense blood and kill games off but, like against Austria in March, Ireland's nature is to bait the wounded animal and hope that time runs out. The timeless Anders Svensson, 37, punished that folly last night.
Once again, in the post-match briefings, the manager harked back to Austria's late equaliser in March. He seems to feel that late goals shouldn't count. "92 minutes 37 seconds," is his mantra. If he was to apply that logic to the game that saw Ireland beat Kazakhstan on the opening day then he may have resigned after the Germany lesson. But the 74-year-old is nothing if not defiant. Asked if it was time to move on, he replied, "No. I think we have done until now, a very, very great job, a great job - not a good job, a great job. We have changed many players in the squad and in the team and before the game, we were level in the table with a great team like Sweden."
The last sentence, in particular, jars. Sweden have a truly great player in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but a great team? If he really thinks that then he was alone among the 51,700 crowd in Lansdowne Road. No-one else saw a "great" team last night. He will trundle on, however. Modern football contracts dictate that resigning is not the done thing.
Dunne refused to be drawn on his boss' future. "The manager is the manager. He's done brilliant for us in the last four years. That's the way life is, if we lose games we're all under pressure so we just have to make sure that on Tuesday we put the effort in and give ourselves whatever chance is available," he said. But the QPR defender was trying to convince himself more than anyone else.
Keane also sounded like he knew the game was up. "It's going to be a tough task now but we still can't think that we're going to be out of it. We've got a tough game on Tuesday in Austria but Sweden have got a tough game away in Kazakhstan, it's not an easy place to go so hopefully they can do us a favour," he told reporters unconvincingly.
Favours are one thing, going to Germany and winning, as they would have to, is another. Next up is Vienna on Tuesday but even a win there would just prolong the agony. The dream of Brazil 2014 is over.