Albania 0 The Republic of Ireland 0
A Dire Game with Given A Hero!
The Republic of Ireland drew 0-0 with Albania in Tirana in a highly charged, but less hostile atmosphere than in Tiblisi on Saturday. Ireland absorbed the pressure without seriously threatening to dominate the Albanians.Ireland did put the ball twice in the Albania net however. In the last ten minutes both Carsley and Breen had the ball in the back of the Albanian net only to have bith goals disallowed. Overall the Albanians were well organised and had several chances but their efforts were thwarted by Shay Given who was in outstanding form in the Irish goal.
After just two minutes Given was forced to make a point blank save from Murati (the man the home fans call the Maradona of the Balkins!). On eleven minutes, Given was once again called into action again when Rraklli was given a free header in the Irsih box from an inocoming cross, thankfully he went for direction rather than power and Given made a comfortable, if spectacular save.
Ireland were struggling to put the Albanians under pressure as the midfield was forced to deep into the Irish half to help relieve the Irish defence who were under constant pressure. The Albanian pressure resulted in several chances. A free kick resulted in Given punching Duro's curling free kick and Lala shot wide from about 18 metres yards after Murati had sliced the Irish defence open after a darting run.
When Ireland did break forward Duff, as in previous games caused the opposition defence all kinds of problems and was unlucky not to score just before half time when Keano steppeed over Kilbane's pass for Duff to fire home from 25 meters, only for the ALbanian keeper Strakosha to save. But Albania continued to pressurise the Irish and in the last movement of the half Rraklli shot wide as he came under pressure from Cunningham.
The Albanians started the second half putting pressure on the Irish and in the first in the first minute forced Kilbane into making a high backpass which Given was forced to take down with his chest. Ireland came more into the geame in the second hald as Kilbane and Carsley were crewating more opportunities on the flanks and Keane also appeared to be getting more into the game, Duff however remanied the best attacking option and after 51 minutes when he broke through from midfield and released Keane on the right, who turned inside and slid the ball back to Duff, unfortunately Diff got caught up on the ball and it rolled to the keeper.
Albania had by no means crumpled and after 56 minutes Carr almost scored an own goal as be blasted the ball wide from a corner and Given had another good save from Rraklli's shot a minute later. Albania were in the ascendancy and Tare headed wide after 62 minutes. The Irish never let their heads drop and just as it seemed likely that Albania were about to completely dominate the game, the Irish came out fighting and started to keep possession with some fine passing and succeded in taking some of the pressure off the defence. Doherty came on for Keane after 66 minutes as the Irish went for a more direct route to the Albanian goal. After 69 minutes Carsley crossed in from the right to find Kilbane who latched onto the cross and was unfortunate to find the side netting
Ireland continued to pressurise but the Albanians continued to be dangerous on the counter attack and Myrtaj shot wide after Given's clearance fell to him. Ireland twice put the ball in the Albanian net only for both goals to be disallowed. After 81 minutes Carsley's goal was disallowed after Doherty was adjudged to have pushed Aliajwhen knocking the ball down for the midfielder while, two minutes later Breen's header was disallowed for offside after he knocked in a Kilbane cross from Duff's free kick.
The final result was 0-0 draw with the spoils shared between both teams and a fair result for both teams. Although the game will not go down in the annnals of Irish football as a festival of football the result was made all the more palpatable by the news that Switzerland (the group leaders) were held to a draw in Georgia.
Albania: Strakosha, Beqiri, Cipi, Aliaj,K Duro, Lala, Hasi, Skela (Bushaj 85 minutes), Murati (Bellaj 66 minutes), Tare, Rraklli (Myrtaj 69 minutes).
Subs: Beqaj, A Duro, Dede, Dragusha.
Republic of Ireland: Given, Carr, Breen, Cunningham, O'Shea, Carsley, Kinsella, Holland, Kilbane, Duff, Keane (Doherty 66 minutes).
Subs: Connolly, O'Brien, Quinn, Kiely, Kenna, Healy.
What the Papers Had to Say:
Tom Humphries (The Irish Times) - "Four points from four matches isn't exactly the haul of swag we dreamed of when the draw was made for this Group, and it's fair to say that if all was right with the world of Irish football we should have the beating of any of the other sides. Instead having come close to self-destruction last summer and having a plague of injuries for this trip, we must participate as equals in the Group of the Banana Skin. We'll spend as much time on our backsides as anyone else."
BILL GEORGE (IRISH EXAMINER) - "This was progress maintained for Ireland, despite a conservative performance in a vibrant Qemal Stafa Stadium in Tirana. Albania deserved to extend their unbeaten run at home in this captivating European Championship tie, and it was small wonder that their delighted fans danced in the streets in celebration."
NIALL QUINN (IRISH INDEPENDENT) - "If the Albanians have taught us and the other teams in this Group Ten series anything, it is that no one has a divine right to expect them to lie down and roll over anymore. Quite the contrary in fact. With Russia having doused us 4-2 in the Autumn before losing 3-1 in Albania last weekend, there was reason to suspect that we would do well to end up with a point out of this match."
MICHAEL SCULLY (IRISH DAILY MIRROR) - "Man of the match Shay Given helped Ireland clinch a point and the result leaves Brian Kerr's team in fourth place in Group Ten - four points behind leaders Switzerland,who were held by Georgia in Tbilisi and two behind Russia in the play-off berth.The twists and turns continue in this qualifying pool that is rapidly becoming Europe's Group of Death."
NEIL O'RIORDAN (THE IRISH SUN) - "Shay Given kept the Brian Kerr bandwagon rolling with an inspired display between the posts at the Qemal Stafa Stadium last night. Ireland are still unbeaten since Kerr took over and are still in with a shout of qualifying for Euro 2004 after claiming this precious point."
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