Late Long leveller keeps Irish Euro 2016 hope alive with Poland point
The Republic of Ireland have left Euro 2016 qualifying Group D wide open, after Shane Long’s stoppage equaliser prevented Poland from ending the international break clear of Germany and Scotland.
Martin O’Neill’s men fell behind to an opener from former Wolves winger Slawomir Peszko, but substitute striker Long levelled late on to take a point. Coral have now gone 15/8 on the Republic reaching the tournament finals in France next summer.
Hosts Ireland started sluggishly with Poland comfortable in their 4-4-2 set-up. Veteran centre back John O’Shea contained their twin forward threat of Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski and awesome Ajax loanee Arkadiusz Milik, however.
Instead, it was the left side of the Republic defence that were found wanting. Robbie Brady and Marc Wilson failed to clear their lines with Maciej Rybus making a nuisance of himself, and Peszko also overloaded that flank, latching onto the ball before firing across Shay Given into the far corner.
Despite a man advantage in midfield with their 4-2-3-1 formation, patient Ireland build-up failed to get past Polish anchorman Grzegorz Krychowiak, with the Sevilla man starring in the engine room.
Either side of half time, Republic winger Aiden McGeady scooped an effort wide and then a deflected Brady cross looped onto the far upright. O’Neill opted for a more direct approach after the break, and Poland were indebted to Lukasz Fabianski, who tipped a Robbie Keane header onto the post.
Seamus Coleman later blasted wide at the end of a particularly incisive Irish move, after racing upfield from right back. With the Poles rocking, Long lifted over Swansea stopper Fabianski superbly to snatch a draw when Wes Hoolahan nodded a left-wing corner down to him inside five minutes of injury time.
Thoughts now turn to the second British Isles battle of this pool on June 13th. The Republic lost to Scotland in Glasgow, but now entertain them this summer and can leapfrog Gordon Strachan’s side with victory. It’s far from certain who will reach the France finals automatically, with continental neighbours Poland and Germany both having already dropped points in this pool.