Ireland marched proudly out of Landsdowne Road on Thursday night as the crowd’s beat drummed to the disbelief of a 1-0 win against World champions Germany. That now whets the appetite fervorously for Sunday’s showdown in Warsaw where a win against Poland would see Ireland qualify for EURO 2016.
Shane Long’s goal on 69 minutes could do no more than send hearts racing, stomachs churning and hopes realised around the Aviva Stadium as Ireland added to its list of greatest ever victories, with qualification for EURO 2016 next summer now a real possibility as the Boys in Green at a very minimum earned a play-off prize.
By no means did Ireland give a bad account of themselves in the opening half at Landsdowne Road. The World champions looking rather dazed and slightly perplexed at the effort required to break down the Irish defence on the night in front of a 50,604 strong crowd at the Aviva.
Joachim Loew’s team, winners of the World Cup only fifteen months ago, did seem the more competent side from the off. Within 20 seconds Thomas Mueller’s side-footed volley only just deflected over the bar thanks to John O’Shea and gave Ireland some early-warning signs.
Although it was Martin O’Neill’s men that seemed more in control of their own game plan from the off, pushing high up the pitch on their opponents causing Jerome Boateng and Manuel Neuer into sloppy giveaways of possession; the Bayern Munich duo clearly unnerved by the frankness of Ireland’s plucky demeanour.
The Germans did have the ball in the net on nineteen minutes but it wouldn’t count. Neat exchanges between Marco Reus and Mario Goetze led Mueller to provide a cutting low cross into the path of Mesut Ozil.
The Arsenal playmaker managed to steer the ball past Shay Given but the move was ruled offside by the referee’s assistant as quickly as the ball rattled into the back of the net.
Ireland always had in their possession the possibility of a freak unsuspected goal, with Daryl Murphy as a loan striker partnered by Jon Walters when Ireland attacked. The pair always looked threatening when set free by the creative outbursts of Wes Hoolahan.
Robbie Brady too lent a hand when the ‘Die Mannschaft’ on more than one occasion conceded possession high up the field to break at the clearly unsettled centre back pairing of Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng.
Walters did provide Ireland’s closest scoring opportunities on two occasions in the opening period. The first came as Cyrus Christie went untracked along the right wing, finding the time and space to provide a low cross for Walters no more than three yards from the German goal line.
The Stoke City man managed to guide the ball goalbound but it shrugged the side netting when it could so easily have slipped by Neuer’s near post.
Walters was again the protagonist in Ireland’s anti-hero misadventures of attacks. Brady fed him the ball inside the Germany box, and left unmarked by ?lkay Guendogan his shot again lacked penetration and sizzled into Manuel Neuer’s side-netting.
The first half ended with Germany again threatening to break the deadlock as Mueller pinged the ball across goal to find Ozil unmarked on the perimeter of the Irish box.
Ozil, attempting to replicate his goal against Manchester United at the weekend, side footing an effort towards Given’s goal that curled just wide of the post.
Ireland would have to begin the second half without Given as the goalkeeper limped off with a twisted knee before the first half ended being replaced by West Ham’s Darren Randolph.
Reus broke at alarming pace to shoot a cross through the night’s sky only for substitute Andre Schurrle to fire the ball inches beyond the cross-bar in a move epitomising the capabilities of the German attack when motivated.
Ireland truly upped the tempo on the hour mark as link up play from Walters and Cyrus Christie on the right wing led Walters to deliver a teasing cross that almost had Daryl Murphy reeling away before his shot was deflected marginally wide of the post.
And then the unthinkable happened. The ball punted long and hard by Randolph with the German defence seeing perhaps only a fleeting glimpse of Shane Long’s shadow. The substitute pumped his legs like a demon possessed with a point to prove. Getting on the ball he rifled the ball past Neuer and into the back of the net to put Ireland ahead against the World champions.
Germany overcame their sense of shock, bringing on Karim Bellarabi, and made an attempt at an equaliser. Centre-half Boateng came closest ten minutes from time but he and others were denied time and again by the heroics of substitute Randolph in the Ireland goal.
But it was to be Ireland’s night as the final whistle blew and the crowd’s deafening roar elevated the Irish players on the field into immortal heroes for one night at least.
Ireland: Shay Given (Darren Randolph 43); Cyrus Christie, Richard Keogh, John O'Shea, Stephen Ward (David Meyler 69); Robbie Brady, James McCarthy, Jeff Hendrick, Wes Hoolahan, Jon Walters; Daryl Murphy (Shane Long 65).
Subs not used: David Forde, Paul McShane, Eunan O’Kane, Alex Pearce, David McGoldrick, Darron Gibson, Aidan McGeady, Robbie Keane, Kevin Doyle.
Bookings: Wes Hoolahan (89).
Germany: Manuel Neuer; Matthias Ginter (Karim Bellarabi 76), Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Jonas Hector, Mesut Ozil,Toni Kroos, ?lkay Guendogan (Kevin Volland 84), Marco Reus, Mario Goetze (Andre Schurrle 35);Thomas Mueller.
Subs not used: Bernd Leno, Marc Andre Ter-Stegen, Shkodran Mustafi, Sebastian Rudy, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Emre Can, Christoph Kramer, Max Kruse
Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo (Spain)
ExtraTime.ie Man of the Match: Darren Randolph (Ireland)
Aaron is a Dublin-based freelance writer currently studying journalism at Dublin City University. You can follow more of his work on Twitter @AaronGallagher8