Republic of Ireland hold England with performance full of promise

Giovanni Trapattoni's Ireland team in transition gave the boisterous green swathe at Wembley plenty to cheer

Giovanni Trapattoni already knew what it was like to pitch up at Wembley as the underdog. The Republic of Ireland's manager told the story of almost 50 years ago to the day, when he had appeared as a rugged midfielder for Milan in the European Cup final against Benfica at the venue.

Benfica had Eusebio, Mário Coluna and all the technical quality. The Portuguese club were hotly tipped to triumph. Yet Trapattoni and Milan had the fighting spirit. Benfica, and Coluna in particular, who was kicked out of the game, would argue that they crossed the line, but the Italians made off with their first European Cup after a 2-1 victory.

As blueprints for toppling England go, it was a little glib, but Trapattoni wanted to draw upon the inspiration, to highlight how anything could happen with a flash of quality and lashings of industry. He got both and in the quest to fine-tune for the must-win World Cup qualifier at home to the Faroe Islands, he had to reflect upon a positive evening.

The result was not all important, despite Trapattoni's obsession with them; rather the collective performance, and it was loaded with the sort of fight-for-each-other endeavour that kept England's so-called bigger stars at arm's length. After the comprehensive defeats to Croatia, Italy and Spain at Euro 2012, and the battering at Germany's hands last October, Ireland needed to show the ability to compete with a top-10 nation. More than anything, that is what they take home.

There was, though, something else, something glorious and something that will live long in the memories of the boisterous Irish fans present. The game's outstanding moment was Shane Long's magnificent goal, which took the breath after he sprang to meet Seamus Coleman's cross. The touch and direction on the header were special.

This is an Ireland team in transition and the extent of the changes since the chastening at the European Championship have been sweeping. Only John O'Shea, Glenn Whelan, Aiden McGeady and Robbie Keane have remained as first choices, with the new faces fighting for prominence. This was a stage for the likes of Coleman and James McCarthy to make strides and the marauding Coleman certainly caught the eye. McCarthy flickered, his composure in tight spaces marking him out.

Trapattoni has clung on, despite the feeling, which has gripped at various junctures of the current campaign, that we are witnessing the end of a cycle. It was most pronounced after the 6-1 mauling by Germany in Dublin and the manager was asked whether he would resign after the 2-2 home draw against Austria in March, when the loss of concentration in injury-time prefaced a bitter concession. Those dropped points continue to aggravate like an itch between the shoulder blades.

And yet qualification for the World Cup remains possible, via the play-offs, and Trapattoni rages against the dying of the light. He insists that he is the man to lead Ireland beyond next summer and that, with Sweden still to visit Dublin, his team are set fair. Apart from Austria, Ireland's results have gone to form. In five years of Trapattoni they have not beaten a higher-ranked team in a competitive tie, nor lost to a lower-ranked one. They are a celebration of the Fifa seeding system.

The thing is that they have to change. In all likelihood they will need to beat Sweden in September and Trapattoni knew that this fixture would be a barometer of his team's capacity against the bigger nations. England might not be winning too many rave reviews these days but the Italian had talked up the power of a group that comes from the top echelon of the Premier League. His squad featured fistfuls of players from the Championship.

Ireland's commitment was evident at the outset, and the swathe of green in the south-east corner of the stadium responded to every interception, every challenge. When Long opened the scoring there was something approaching pandemonium inside the enclosure. Long cupped his ears at the England fans behind the goal.

They could only glower at the brilliance of the moment. A green flare lit the scene. Keane might be Ireland's name player but Long is their most thrusting talent. This game seemed like it meant something to the visitors.

Keane had arrived from Los Angeles at 10 o'clock on Tuesday morning, raring to play, and nobody wanted to miss out. Trapattoni had suffered only two withdrawals from his original 28-man party.

The pity for Ireland was the brevity of the lead and, of course, the ugly mis-kick from Sean St Ledger that sent Daniel Sturridge's cross pinging into Whelan and falling for Frank Lampard, who turned past David Forde. But the negatives were in short supply. Forde made saves in a second-half that was pockmarked by substitutions. Oh, and Ireland are now unbeaten against England in 28 years.

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