Wales 2 Ireland 2: Toshack babes expose Republic's old failings
The Republic of Ireland have finished their Euro 2008 qualifying campaign; Wales probably wish they could claim the same. John Toshack travels to Germany on Wednesday with a squad not so much inexperienced as in nappies.
The babes in the old Arms Park rightly took credit for this battling draw, although it came with a ridiculous booking of Jason Koumas that means he is banned for the Frankfurt examination. One more senior player on the sidelines, one more pup chucked into the ring.
Toshack was furious with the Ukrainian referee, Oleg Oriekhov, for showing his playmaker a yellow card for what he adjudged a dive but on video was actually closer to a penalty as Steve Finnan stuck out a foot. Indeed, that dulled some of Toshack's joy in seeing his young charges overcome a 2-1 deficit for a point they fully deserved.
Six of the 14 players used were under 21 and if that was a stat to make Robbie Keane and Co blush then so too were the numbers of Premier League players each side could boast. "We had only four lads from the Premier League and they had all but two," said Toshack. "I can understand that the Irish felt they should have won."
What the Republic have lost in the half-decade since they last qualified for a major championship is the conviction which made them a legendarily tough nut to crack. After coming back from Koumas's free header with well-worked goals from Keane and the excellent Kevin Doyle, the old Republic would never have surrendered the initiative. The only surprise on Saturday when Wales equalised was that their youngsters had the legs even to get the ball upfield.
Granted, Don Givens, the Irish caretaker coach, was entirely justified in labelling Paul McShane's pull-down of David Cotterill as "dubious", but his claim that "I doubt we would have got it at the other end" was fairly weak. There were hardly any fans at either end, so Mr Oriekhov could hardly have been intimidated.
Keane said the afternoon "summed up our camp-aign", which was as honest as it was depressing. Any candidate interested in assuming the position left vacant by Steve Staunton's departure last month would recognise the necessity to foster a greater team ethic. Strange as it seems, it genuinely is possible to peer down the Ireland squad and see as much quality, if not more, as there was in the jolly green giant-killers of yesteryear.
The managership is an attractive position because of that and Givens, the Under-21 coach, has called for the Football Association of Ireland to find "a young John Giles"; many believe Paul Jewell is exactly that. Perhaps Jewell and any other potential appointees would be wise to check out the draw for the World Cup qualifiers next Sunday before signing anything.
There is no such expectation in the Principality, and why should there be? As well as the injured Craig Bellamy and Gareth Bale, Toshack listed the men lost to him during this latest venture. Ryan Giggs is the obvious absentee, thanks to international retirement, but then there are others such as Paul Jones, Mark Delaney and John Hartson.
Toshack has started afresh because he had to, although at least there appears to be a little light in the distance. Alas, Germany could soon extinguish that.
Wales (4-4-1-1): Hennessey (Wolves); Eardley (Oldham), Collins (West Ham), Gabbidon (West Ham), Gunter (Cardiff); Davies (Fulham), Robinson (Toronto), Fletcher (Crystal Palace), Ledley (Cardiff); Koumas (West Bromwich), Eastwood (Wolves). Substitutes used: Edwards (Luton) for Robinson, 37; Easter (Plymouth) for Eastwood, 59; Cotterill (Wigan) for Eardley, 81.
Republic of Ireland (4-4-2): Given (Newcastle); Finnan (Liverpool), McShane (Sunderland), O'Shea (Manchester United), Kilbane (Wigan); Miller (Sunderland), Carsley (Everton), Reid (Charlton), McGeady (Celtic); Doyle (Reading), Keane (Tottenham). Substitutes not used: Hunt (Reading) for Miller, 59; Potter (Wolves) for Reid, 87.
Referee: O Oriekhov (Ukraine).
Booked: Wales Koumas; Republic of Ireland O'Shea.
Man of the match: Doyle.