Serbia 0-0 Republic of IrelandWed, Aug 15 2012
There might not have been any goals to report as Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland looked to erase the nightmare of Poland from their minds but on an evening where it was more about experimentation than earning a result, plenty positives can be taken.
These games are, along with the late May friendlies, the least anticipated of internationals each year. In a near empty stadium however, something worth remembering happened: Ireland played 4-5-1, with James McClean in a central role and Jonathan Walters the target man up front.
At last, we found out this management team are capable of trying something new.
It meant the oft-derided Simon Cox, after sealing a move to Nottingham Forest earlier this week, played out wide. Trap, infamously stated he’s more than capable of playing on the flanks in Poland but – and this is a major but considering the lack of competitiveness in the game – he adapted well in a competent though not spectacular performance.
While a formation that has in the past been considered negative, 4-5-1 provided plenty of food for thought in Belgrade. Certainly, it’s a style that suits Walters far more than it would Robbie Keane and although Shane Long was benched with a leg injury, a nice alternative would be to have the Tipperary man as the central attacking midfielder with McClean out wide.
Keane doesn’t have the same ability as Walters in a target man role; he’s simply not good enough at holding the ball up while support arrives, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens when Ireland take on Kazakhstan on September 7. Whether this was the beginning of the new dawn the entire country had hoped for, it’s hard to say but it was refreshing to see what fans had been crying out for since the harrowing Croatia defeat in Poznan.
There were of course changes in personnel too. John O’Shea wore the captain’s armband for the first time and with Richard Dunne ruled out of the opening qualifier in Astan, he looks set to remain at centre-half.
Following on from Shay Given’s retirement, Keiren Westwood, assuming the role as the new number one, looked commanding even though it was only a challenge match. He did well to smother a deflected Aleksandar Kolarov on 19 minutes and also superbly palmed away a Zdravko Kuzmanovic free-kick with 20 minutes to play.
It is important to remember though, that this was a Serbian side at the beginning of a fresh cycle too – a relatively new manager who has yet to win over the fans and a youthful complexion to the side that perhaps even surpassed that of Trap’s men. Much better and indeed worse opposition awaits on the long, winding but hopeful road to Rio.
Substitutions, as they tend to do in most friendlies, disrupted the game and the pace wasn’t exactly lung-bursting. Why would it be when the season cross-channel kicks-off at the weekend?
As per the norm in friendlies, the first half was a little better than the second, with some decent enough moves in the middle of the park, although clearcut opportunities were seldom carved out.
Aiden McGeady, the great enigma of this current squad, flashed a volley which Stojkovic saved soon after the half hour mark in Ireland’s best shot on goal but it remained goalless at the break, with little to really choose between the sides.
The tourists’ system was denying the home team the space they desired and Westwood was protected quite well, with even Canada bound Darren O’Dea doing his claims for a start next month no harm.
McGeady had Stojkovic scrambling again in the 63rd minute as Nemanja Tomic had Serbia’s best chance of stealing a winner with six minutes to go but in truth the teams could have been there until midnight and it would have remained scoreless.
Serbia: Vladimir Stojkovic; Branislav Ivanovic, Milan Bisevac (Nikola Maksimovic ht), Matija Nastasic, Aleksandar Kolarov; Srdan Mijailovic(Milos Ninkovic 64), Zdravko Kuzmanovic (Dusan Basta 82), Aleksandar Ignjovski, Dusan Tadic (Filiip Duricic 64), Zoran Tosic (Nemanja Tomic 82); Dejan Lekic (Lazar Markovic ht).
Subs not used: Damir Kahriman, Zeljko Brkic, Ivan Radovanovic, Neven Subotic.
Republic of Ireland: Keiren Westwood; Paul McShane, Darren O’Dea, John O’Shea, Stephen Kelly; Simon Cox, Glenn Whelan (Paul Green 60), James McCarthy, James McClean (Andy Keogh 72), Aiden McGeady (Seamus Coleman 79); Jonathan Walters (Joey O’Brien 79) .
Subs not used: David Forde, Shane Long, Damien Delaney, Darren Randolph.
Booked: Aiden McGeady.
Referee: A Tudor.
ExtraTime.ie Man of the Match: Darren O’Dea.
Alan Smith has been writing for ExtraTime since 2008. He works as a full-time journalist based in Cork, working as a sub-editor for TCM and freelancing for a range of national titles. Follow him on twitter @alansmith90.