Ireland fall into one-dimensional Trap
Outspoken criticism for the coach who has dragged the Republic of Ireland national team from oblivion to the brink of qualification for the 2010 World Cup finals has been reasonably muted to date, but the undercurrent of discontent that has been mounting against Giovanni Trapattoni may now explode.
After Slovakia's surprise defeat against Armenia earlier in the day, this was a night when opportunity knocked for the side that came within a French hand of a place in South Africa last summer, yet Ireland fluffed their lines in desperately frustrating fashion in front of an expectant home crowd.
While a couple of late goals brought the sparkling new Aviva Stadium to life in raucous fashion and so nearly produced the most unlikely of conclusion to this Euro 2012 Group B qualifier, the final analysis confirms that Ireland's hopes of qualifying have been dealt a hammer blow on a night when Trapattoni's limited tactical options were exposed in worrying fashion.
It means the media fire that has generally been friendly towards the Ireland boss may now become more threatening as the coach devoted to his 4-4-2 formation refused to divert from his Plan A until this game was all but lost.
Even though legendary Italian coach should take credit for reviving a national team that had sunk to its lowest ebb under the embarrassing stewardship of his predecessor Steve Staunton, the methods he has employed to drag his moderately talented squad into qualification contention has provided delight and frustration in equal measure.
On this occasion, Ireland's inability to retain the ball and create chances with even an ounce of fluid football gave Russia all the encouragement they needed to attack Trapattoni's men at will and this angry post match reaction from Ireland defender Richard Dunne could only be interpreted as an attack on his manager.
"Over the 90 minutes, we didn't deserve anything from the game," admitted the visibly irate Aston Villa defender. "We didn't close them down and our only game plan seemed to be hitting it long. When that didn't work, we didn't have an answer. We were not brave enough to have confidence in passing the ball tonight. Going long is the easy way out for some people and it is never going to be good enough."
Dunne's words will capture plenty of headlines in the Irish media over the coming days and it was not until Trapattoni broke with tradition and reverted to a 4-5-1 formation that this tie was so nearly transformed. Sadly for Ireland, they were already 3-0 behind at that stage, with the hole Trapattoni's men had dug for themselves too deep to clamber out of.
In reality, Trapattoni's Plan B was revealed in this qualifier and if Dunne's post-match assassination of his manager's tactics are anything to go by, it will be not have been warmly received by those in the Ireland dressing room. If whack it long in the first hour proved ineffective for the home side, whack it even higher and longer was all that the Italian could come up with by way of a riposte.
To be fair, it very nearly produced the most unlikely of comebacks as few international fixtures are retrieved by sides who fall so far behind. However, as Dunne suggested, the spirited late revival that yielded goals from Robbie Keane and Shane Long cannot disguise the reality that this was an Ireland side outclassed by their opponents for much of this game.
Russian coach Dick Advocaat may have feared for his own job security after last month's shock home defeat against Slovakia, but his side offered him the perfect response as they out-passed and outmanoeuvred an Ireland side that had previously proved themselves to be difficult to unhinge under Trapattoni's guidance.
An indifferent refereeing decision from Dutch referee Kevin Blom handed Russia their opening in Dublin as after Dunne was penalised for an innocuous challenge, Zenit St Petersburg striker Alexandr Kerzhakov providing the finishing touch after unusually uncertain defending from the Irish. Replays suggested an off-side decision should have gone Ireland's way in the build-up to the goal.
When Trapattoni's men were carved open once again as an incisive passage of Russian passing after 28 minutes, the vital second goal was provided by CSKA Moscow star Alan Dzagoev. The previous buoyant home crowd were instantly silenced in chilling fashion.
A third Russian goal courtesy of a deflected Roman Shirokov shot five minutes into the second half appeared to confirm Ireland's fate and with that, the post mortems on this potentially decisive night in this Euro 2012 Group B began to be written in a press box oozing with deflated patriotic expectation.
"The group is still there for us to attack and we go to Slovakia convinced we can find a way to succeed. This was not the performance I expect to see from an Ireland team and we have to rediscover our ambition in the next game."
Naturally, Russia boss Advocaat was in a better mood as he summed up his side's clinically efficient victory. "There was no reason at all for us to suffer the last 20 minutes of concern, but a cheap penalty brought them back into the game and they had us under real pressure ahead of the final whistle," said the ex-Rangers coach.
"Even though I feel so proud of the way we played against a difficult opponent, we have to learn from our mistake of letting Ireland back into this fixture when it was already won."
Ireland's failure to match the Russian's desire in this crucial qualifier will have been the most galling aspect of an evening that promised so much and delivered nothing but despair for Trapattoni. His relatively successful spell as Ireland boss has earned the right to engineer a fight back in the pivotal game against Slovakia next Tuesday, yet he will now come under increasing pressure to transform his side into more than a one trick pony.
This qualifying group may well be wide open after the results from the third round of ties, but Ireland are no longer looking to the future with optimism. That change of mindset is dangerous for their celebrated manager.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Alexandr Kerzhakov
The Russian forward was a threat all night and he could have had more goals against a troubled Ireland backline.
AVIVA COMES ALIVE: The new home of Irish soccer has taken its time to find its soul, but the redeveloped Lansdowne Road arena was rocking for this Euro 2012 clash. Ireland fans can make noise like few others on nights like this.
McGEADY FLOPS AGAIN: Six years have passed since Aiden McGeady made his international debut in Ireland colours and he has yet to produce a single goal or match winning display at this level. The ex-Celtic man is not living up to the hype that has long surrounded him.
LATE CONTROVERSY: Sean St Ledger was convinced he should have had a second penalty in the final act of this action packed qualifier, but the game was not to have a dramatic final twist.
IRELAND VERDICT: Trapattoni's men will struggle to recover from this thumping and yet they must bounce back quickly against Slovakia next Tuesday. Time will tell if their promising start to their Euro 2012 qualifiers took a terminal turn in this game.