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SO much hype, so much fighting talk -but in the end oh so disappointing.

Ireland were brought back to earth last night as Russia ripped Giovanni Trapattoni's men apart and exposed the manager's lack of a Plan B until a late revival almost saved face.

The Ireland boss always talks about the result -rather than the performance -as being the only thing that matters.

And in 15-20 years the record books will show that Ireland lost 3-2 at home to Russia. A blow, but respectable enough. Yet the Italian will know it could have been a bloodbath as Russia were 3-0 up and turning cartwheels before the rousing finish.

Robbie Keane's soft penalty with 18 minutes left seemed to be merely consolation but it, more than any tactical switch, gave Ireland hope.

The crowd fed off that and the team in turn fed off the support. And six minutes after Keane's lifeline, sub Shane Long incredibly pulled another one back. The Aviva Stadium was rocking and hoping for the unlikeliest of comebacks.

It never materialised. Gallant as the stirring finish was, nobody should be fooled. This was a comprehensive beating.

News earlier in the day that Slovakia -who Ireland now face in Zilina on Tuesday -had lost 3-1 in Armenia had the crowd buzzing well before kick-off.

But the hand that fed them so well before kick-off was quickly withdrawn as Russia tormented the clueless hosts from the off.

Any serious question that Dick Advocaat's men were in decline following their own defeat to Slovakia last time out were unfounded. Until the closing 18 minutes, the visitors played like a team possessed and their 2-0 lead at half-time was by no means flattering. Gobsmacked Ireland had no answers.

This was only Trapattoni's sixth defeat in 26 games. But for all the positive talk surrounding the team following their back-to-back wins in this campaign, there was always a feeling that Trap was due a pasting one day.

And, for the most part, last night was a horror show. It was a mauling, at least until Ireland's last chance saloon stuff at the death.

Early on Russia were slick, clam and controlled. Ruthless and cunning too. Yet Ireland were not without their chances.

Despite being overrun in midfield, long balls forward bore fruit. Keane and Kevin Doyle were willing and able despite feeding off scraps and they caused the visiting defence tremendous amounts of trouble.

But Ireland's best spell of the game came just eight minutes in and Aiden McGeady was central in a move that deserved a goal.

Akinfeev flapped at the Spartak Moscow winger's cross and Keane lobbed in the rebound which clipped off the bar with Doyle following in. As the ball broke, McGeady appealed for a penalty after being brought to ground by defender Vasily Berezucky, but the Dutch ref was unmoved.

Amid the mayhem, Keane then drilled the ball across the face of goal and out over the line. It was a mad-cap minute that had the 50,411 fans on their feet -but it would be shortlived.

Russia soon clicked and were ahead after 10 minutes. Richard Dunne conceded a needless free on the left which Andrey Arshavin drilled into the box.

Shay Given blocked, but Sergey Ignashevich hooked the ball over his head and back into the box. Striker Alexander Kerzhakov pounced and fired a ball home between Dunne and Kilbane on the line, although it did take a slight deflection off St Ledger.

Russia were buoyed, Ireland reeling. And their night would simply go from bad to worse -Kerzhakov going close again while John O'Shea was lucky to see a ropy deflection skip wide.

But that Russian domination would pay dividends again and they were two up just before the half hour. Arshavin split the Irish cover with a superb ball which Alexander Anyukov raced onto down the right.

And the full-back whipped in a sublime low ball which Kerzhakov dummied and winger Alan Dzagoev blasted home from close range. Ireland were all over the shop at this stage.

Midfield, despite Glenn Whelan's endeavour, provided no cover for the defence with rookie Paul Green beginning to unravel on his biggest night in football.

And the lights were turned out five minutes into the second half when Roman Shirokov's 50th minute low drive to nothing clipped off Dunne and deflected past Given.

But in the closing stages Keane and Long ensured an incredible finish, and credit where credit is due even if the goose was well and truly cooked before that.

Unquestionably there is spirit in this team, but Trapattoni needs to pick up morale for Zilina on Tuesday.


OPENER Alexander Kerzhakov hits Russia's first goal LOUD & CLEAR Ireland manager Trapattoni shouts instructions from the sideline GIVEN A PASTING Goalkeeper Shay Given can't hide his disappointment at the end BEGINNING OF THE END The home side are stunned as Kerzhakov celebrates the opening goal
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 9, 2010
Previous Article:HOW THEY RATED.

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