Pre-Match And Team News
Three points were on the agenda of both nations heading into this match, so there was an incredible amount to play for, as success would certainly leave the victors in a fantastic position with just four qualifiers remaining.
As expected, Marcello Lippi opted to start the in-form Giampaolo Pazzini in attack for Italy, alongside Vincenzo Iaquinta and Simone Pepe. Matteo Brighi earned a start in the midfield ahead of Angelo Palombo, whilst the back four remain unchanged from the side that defeated Montenegro at the weekend.
There were no surprises in the Irish starting eleven, as Giovanni Trapattoni utilized his two main men up front, in Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle. Thankfully for the sake of Ireland, Shay Given was declared fit to play prior to the contest; however the same could not be said for the injured Damien Duff, who failed to shake off a hamstring injury in time, and Aiden McGeady, who missed with a foot problem.
The Irish got the play underway in front of a hostile crows in Bari, and what a fiery opening it was to this highly anticipated contest. A number of extremely tough challenges took place early on, and sensationally after just four minutes of play, disaster struck for the Italians.
The hero of the weekend’s match against Montenegro, Giampaolo Pazzini, was incredibly shown a red card for what was adjudged to be an elbow to the face on Manchester United’s O’Shea. The contact left the defender with a heavy gash to the head, and it meant that the Azzurri would play the remaining 86 minutes with ten men. Replays though showed that this decision was extremely harsh, as contact was involuntary.
Impressively on 11 minutes, Vincenzo Iaquinta opened the scoring for the world champions, with a cool finish from close range, giving the Irish keeper Given no chance in goal. Pirlo’s glorious chip towards Grosso resulted in the left back surging into the area, and despite having to contend with a crowded area consisting of five opposing defenders, the Lyon man managed to pick out Iaquinta, who did the rest from a few yards out.
To Ireland’s credit though, they lifted their game after conceding the opening goal, and despite not managing to create any chances whatsoever on goal, they did give the Italians a scare or two over the next ten minutes of play. Most notably, an exciting counter attacking play that ended with Hunt, who ran a third of the pitch and into the area, before being wonderfully dispossessed by Chiellini deep in attack.
Trapattoni made the first substitution of the match after just 22 minutes of play; as Folan came on in place of Keogh, the man that was called in to replace the injured McGeady in the midfield. It was a change in shape for the Irish, who would begin to play with three players up front, as the substitute would play alongside Doyle and his captain Keane in attack.
Despite their dominance in possession, the visitors’ first opportunity of the night came after 24 minutes, when Keane tested his luck from a long way out. It was a decent attempt by the skipper; however the chances of beating the world’s best goal keeper from that sort of range were always going to be minimal. On the counter attack that followed, Iaquinta pounced on a mistake by Dunne, only to eventually commit a foul to lose possession of the ball.
Italy had a massive chance to double their advantage on 32 minutes, when a Grosso cross was so very nearly converted by a sliding Pepe at the back post. It wasn’t to be however, so the Italians reverted back to getting numbers back, as they generally had eight players behind the ball in the closing stages.
Ireland found a rare way through the Azzurri back four on 40 minutes, when Hunt, who was arguably his side’s best player to this point, managed to get himself into a decent shooting position. That is what he eventually decided to do, however his powerful left foot drive was brilliantly dealt with by Buffon, as his quick reflexes ensured that the Italians would hold onto their lead at the break.
That’s how the first half ended, as the world champions maintained their one goal advantage, meaning that the visitors had it all do to in the second period.
The Italians got the second half underway, and somewhat surprisingly, Lippi made his first substitution of the night, as he replaced the classy Pirlo with the hard working Palombo in midfield. Perhaps the world cup winning coach wanted to add some intensity in the middle, as there seemed to be no physical concerns for the Milan man.
With the game still in the balance, Trapattoni opted to make his second switch of the match, as Gibson came on to replace Andrews, whilst Lippi introduced Dossena, in place of Pepe. It was clear that both sides were working extremely hard at this point; however it was the Irish that continued to control the possession as the match wore on.
Ireland had a genuine claim for a penalty on 55 minutes, as Buffon failed to make contact with the ball, whilst sliding in front of Hunt to deny him any chance of taking possession of the ball. Unfortunately for their sake though, their claims were turned down by the German referee, and as a result the play continued. They will consider themselves desperately unlucky, as they have certainly been given in the past.
The tempo dropped in the period following this decision, however having said this, it was beginning to look increasingly likely that Trapattoni’s men would grab an equaliser from somewhere in the closing half hour or so of the match. Despite their dominance, they continued to struggle in their final third, and consequently the score line remained unchanged after 70 minutes of play.
The Azzurri continued to play their traditional brand of football, and simply defend for the large majority of the second half; however they did manage to create a rare attack on 82 minutes through Iaquinta. The Juve hitman launched the attack by making a promising run that covered almost half of the pitch, before cutting it back to Dossena, who failed to get the better of his opponent in the area.
Incredibly, just moments later, Kilbane had a massive chance to equalise for the Irish. His captain Keane did brilliantly well to control the ball in the area, and hold it up waiting for support. This support came in the form of Kilbane, who eventually blasted a shot from inside the area, only to see it brilliantly saved by Buffon.
The goal that Ireland had been desperately seeking for the entire match eventually came after 87 minutes, when Robbie Keane gave Buffon no chance from close range. A long ball forward by the keeper Given, was wonderfully met by the head of Folan, who headed it down towards his captain, leaving the Tottenham hitman to do the rest.
Three minutes of stoppage time were added in the second half, however it was too little too late for either side, as it ended all square. The result leaves Italy in top spot of group eight, on 14 points, two ahead of Ireland, who comfortably remain in second position.
Italy (4-3-3): Buffon; Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Chiellini, Grosso; De Rossi, Pirlo (Palombo, 46’), Brighi; Pepe (Dossena 54’), Pazzini, Iaquinta (Quagliarella 88’).
Republic of Ireland (4-4-2): Given; McShane, Dunne, O’Shea, Kilbane; Keogh (Folan, 21’), Whelan, Andrews (Gibson, 54’), Hunt; Doyle (Kelly, 63’), Keane.
10’ Iaquinta (Italy)
87’ Keane (Ireland)
4’ Pazzini (Italy)
Adrian Del Monte, Goal.com