Ireland – 0
Wales – 0
After disappointment earlier in the week, Ireland was set to face Wales in the Nations League at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday. It was a particularly dramatic morning on October 11 for Irish football, with the news that five players had been stood down from the matchday squad due to a case of Covid-19. The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) confirmed one player, who currently remains unnamed, tested positive on Friday October 10 after the squad’s return from Slovakia. A negative test on Monday prompted the return back and those that were close contacts, thought to be Callum Robinson, Alan Browne, John Egan, and Callum O’Dowda, have been stood down since.
In a statement, the FAI explained: “Stephen Kenny’s Ireland squad has received one positive Covid-19 test result ahead of [the] Nations League game against Wales at the Aviva Stadium, after the latest round of Uefa testing. A player – who cannot be named at this time – tested positive on Friday after a negative test on Monday, but his case is not related in any way to that of the backroom team member who tested positive on Monday last. Talks with the HSE late last night identified four other players as close contacts of this positive case and they have been stood down from the matchday squad for today’s game against Wales.”
The news came in the wake of players Adam Idah and Aaron Connolly being withdrawn from the squad mere hours before the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final against Slovakia on October 8. Ireland went on to unfortunately lose this match on penalties, and the squad changes likely had an impact, as Connolly had been in the starting lineup for that game.
There’s no doubt that Covid-19 has affected sports in every aspect, and that the Irish team felt it acutely as of late. These new developments left manager Stephen Kenny facing another major reshuffle on short notice for the Wales game, and the trip to Finland scheduled for October 14.
The revised lineup was as follows: Darren Randolph, Matt Doherty, Captain Shane Duffy, Kevin Long, Enda Stevens, Conor Hourihane, Jeff Hendrick, Robbie Brady, Jayson Molumby, James McClean, Shane Long. Substitutes included Mark Travers, Caoimhin Kelleher, Daryle Horgan, Sean Maguire, Josh Cullen, Cyrus Christie, and Jack Byrne.
“Wales attempted to make a move down along the wing, but Hourihane was quick to react and helped the ball back as far as Randolph.”
After the national anthems played across the eerily empty stadium, referee Sidiropoulos got the game underway. In the first five minutes, there were no major probing attacks yet by the Irish as they moved the ball around a lot in defence and spread the play out wide.
Wales attempted to make a move down along the wing, but Hourihane was quick to react and helped the ball back as far as Randolph.
The opening quarter of an hour lacked intensity as Wales was quick into the faces of the Irish midfield. It’s safe to say both teams were cancelling each other out. Ireland finally saw some action nearly 20 minutes in as a cross from Doherty allowed Hendrick to set up Brady for a nice shot, but it was cleanly blocked by Wales’s Joe Rodon.
The first booking came soon after the attempted shot and, to Ireland’s delight, it was of a Welshman. Deemed by referee Sidiropoulos to have led with his arm against Kevin Long, Kieffer Moore was handed a worthy yellow card. Long was injured as a result and came off the field as his left eye appeared to be noticeably swelling. He acknowledged the challenge wasn’t intentional and gave an encouraging fist bump to teammate Christie as he came on in his place.
After only being in for a short while, Christie himself received a booking as he gave the ball away in a rather dangerous position and tugged the shirt of Wales player Joe Morrell. Thankfully, Hendrick did a bang up job to flick it off the head of Rodon after the resulting free-kick.
“At half time, it remained a frustrating stalemate.”
Notable for Wales in the first half was the penalty they felt owed when Randolph dropped the ball at corner and collided into Ethan Ampadu. Officials waved off the Welsh protests. At half time, it remained a frustrating stalemate.
Undefeated in their last seven matches in competitive football, Wales did not seem concerned starting off the second half. They were in the same situation in both their previous Nations League games against Bulgaria and Finland, and still came out on top. If you were rooting for Ireland, at this point you were most likely starting to worry.
Thankfully though, Ireland shut down the Wales counter-attacking game with some impressive defence. The rather unimpressive offensive play was nothing to gloat about though as Long missed a nice cross from Stevens. Long had another opportunity to score after receiving the ball from Hendrick, but rather than taking a touch he looked for the one-two, meaning another missed goal and a continued stalemate.
“McClean caught his second yellow and was forced to walk off the field after challenging Ampadu.”
Another booking came at the 79th minute. James McClean of Ireland clumsily ran across the heels of Connor Roberts, an especially painful injury for the as McLean’s studs ran down the back of Roberts’ Achilles, apparently accidentally. A yellow card followed soon after. Only a few minutes later McClean caught his second yellow and was forced to walk off the field after challenging Ampadu.
Despite having an additional four minutes of play, neither team could clutch the win. It would have been great for Ireland to have gotten the win against Wales to use the Nations League as a backdoor to a play-off for the 2022 World Cup. Ireland could have also really used the points pickup from a win against Wales to improve their seeding for the Cup. Clearly having been affected by the late notice Covid-19 case, this missed opportunity will not go unnoticed for the Irish.