The Republic of Ireland have picked up a massive point vs Group D rivals Switzerland this evening. The Swiss, along with Denmark, are Ireland’s toughest challengers in the five nation qualification group. Ireland have now played all four other nations in the group on at least one occasion, and remain undefeated. Ireland currently top their group with just three fixtures left to play.
This Switzerland fixture was a rollercoaster ride for all Irish fans. The Boys in Green were on the backfoot for the majority of the first half of the game. Mick McCarthy’s side originally lined out in a 4-2-3-1 shape. This resulted in the Irish getting pinned back and overrun in midfield by the Swiss quite easily early on. Ireland struggled to build attacks for the first half hour of the game, and displayed an uninspiring performance.
For the last 10 minutes of the first half, McCarthy’s side switched to a back 3. The Irish enjoyed far more success for these final minutes of the first half. This switch in shape allowed Ireland to deploy captain Seamus Coleman and James McClean as wing-backs. The use of wing-backs helped Ireland to threaten the Swiss goal much more effectively. The additional cover of an extra centre back also allowed Conor Hourihane to get further forward and be more of a creative outlet for the Irish.
The first half was ultimately a feeling out process for both sides. The Irish perhaps showed a weakened Switzerland side too much respect at home in the first half. This was a game begging to be taken by the scruff of the neck in the first half.
Ireland again changed their shape at the beginning of the second half. McCarthy opted to switch back to a flat back four. Meanwhile Jeff Hendrick, who had previously been occupying the ‘10’ position, dropped deeper, joining Glenn Whelan and Conor Hourihane, making up a midfield 3. This, presumably, served two purposes. Firstly, the extra man in midfield would help Ireland to control a game which was there to be taken. While secondly, Hendrick added legs to the midfield to cover for the 35 year old Glenn Whelan as the game wore on into its latter stages.
Unfortunately, Ireland’s 3 man midfield seemed disjointed at times. This allowed the Swiss to pin Ireland back into their own half, and commit more men forward. Centre-back Fabian Schar enjoyed freedom to roam forward on multiple occasions in the second half. This ultimately paid dividends for the Swiss, who took a 1-0 lead in the 74th minute. A run from the marauding Schar lead to the Newcastle United man scoring the opening goal of the game.
Conceding a goal, however, seemed to be the wake-up call which the Irish squad needed. Ireland began to threaten the Swiss defence more, in the dying stages of the second half. Ireland’s pressure appeared to climax as Glenn Whelan rattled the bar in the 84th minute of the game.
Whelan’s near miss took the air out of the Aviva, but not for too long. Only a minute after Whelan’s strike, David McGoldrick got himself onto the end of a James McClean cross into the box, and the Sheffield United striker secured his first international goal at the Aviva. McGoldrick’s crucial leveller was enough to salvage a 1-1 draw for Ireland at home to tough competition.
It seemed for much of this game that both teams would be happy to walk away with a point. From an Irish perspective, it appeared as though the Swiss were there for the taking for much of the game. However, all in all, this result will be a welcome one for the Boys in Green. Ireland have maintained their unbeaten record and remain at the top of their group.
Ireland will hope to take all three points from their next qualification game away to Georgia next month. After that, their final two games are a trip away to Switzerland, before Denmark travel to the Aviva, in November. Ireland’s final three group games will be big tests. However, McCarthy’s side will be happy with their results from their first 5 games. The Irish have left themselves in a good position to qualify from their group. Now they need to finish the job in the final months of 2019.