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Fringe stars struggle as Republic of Ireland caught cold by Iceland

Republic of Ireland 0 Iceland 1

By Daniel McDonnell

On the eve of this game, Martin O'Neill admitted that friendly matches can actually do more harm than good. The strange business of the Fifa world rankings could actually become important later this year if the Republic of Ireland end up in a World Cup play-off where seedings come into play.

And other nations have realised that selective scheduling of games - or simply not playing any at all - can help to boost the standing. Wales went 17 months without a friendly on their climb up the charts.

Time will tell if this encounter and the June games with Mexico and Uruguay really were meaningless. Iceland, who are currently one place ahead of the Republic in 23rd, fielded a second-string operation here too but managed to avoid damage.

The Republic can have no real complaints about the outcome as they paid for another flat first half at the Aviva and failed to do enough in a late resurgence.

O'Neill said beforehand that Seamus Coleman's injury heartbreak had cast a shadow over this entire gathering, and there was nothing to lift his spirits.

Three players did win first caps, with second-half introduction Daryl Horgan the most impressive, but it was another night's work which emphasised the importance of absent mainstays.

This was a different type of occasion to Friday's draw with Wales with only Jeff Hendrick and James McClean retained.

John Egan was also given his first taste of international football and it didn't start too well for him with a second-minute knock to the head resulting in some blood and a head bandage.

The real discomfort for the Corkman came in the 20th minute when he ended up on the wrong side of Kjartan Henry Finnbogason and committed a foul that resulted in a yellow card and an Icelandic free-kick at the edge of the box.

Unfortunately for Egan, Bristol City's Hordur Bjorgvin Magnusson made that a moment of significance by stepping up to curl a left-footer over a static wall and past Keiren Westwood.

The keeper might have done better and the wall didn't cover itself in glory with Conor Hourihane ducking at a vital point.

It was the only real moment of excitement in a half that was pedestrian for large periods although McClean did try and raise the intensity levels.

Otherwise, the Republic lacked real inspiration, with Aiden McGeady closed down every time he tried to get something going on the right and Cyrus Christie hit and miss in his attempts to provide support - this was another reason for management to think of Coleman.

Sometimes, friendly games are ruined by changes. But this encounter was crying out for some.

The Republic did lift the tempo from the resumption, though, executing passes that bit quicker and utilising their width. McGeady and Johnny Hayes also started to drift infield a little bit more to open up some options.

O'Neill rang the changes on the hour mark, with ex-Dundalk pair Horgan and Andy Boyle given a warm welcome. He also changed his midfield pair with Stephen Gleeson ending a decade-long wait for another cap and Eunan O'Kane introduced.

Shane Long and Callum O'Dowda came into the fray later on with the latter responsible for a run at pace and a shot that was deflected wide.

Horgan sent in three deliveries of quality that the front men were unable to really anticipate.

The Republic did apply late pressure but Iceland were unruffled and an injury-time throw from Christie that Boyle headed tamely was the sum total of the effort from a night that only the debutants will remember fondly.

Republic of Ireland: Westwood, Christie, Egan (Boyle 64), Pearce, Brady, McGeady (O'Dowda 73), Hendrick (Gleeson 63), Hourihane (O'Kane 63), Hayes (Horgan 63), McClean (Long 72), Doyle.

Iceland: Kristinsson, Saevarsson (Ari Jonsson 85), Ingason, Sigurdsson (Eyjolfsson 53), Magnusson, Gíslason (Skulason 89), Gunnarsson, Skulason (Smarason 79), Siguroarson (Omarsson 65), Bodvarsson, Finnbogason (Karlsson 72).

Goal: Magnusson (21)

Man of the match: Sigurdsson.

Referee: Jakob Kehlet (Denmark).       

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