Martin O’Neill’s side were on the wrong end of a 4-1 scoreline against a rampant Wales side.
– Paul Dollery reports from Cardiff City Stadium
ELEVEN MONTHS ON from a memorable occasion for Irish football in Cardiff, Martin O’Neill’s side endured a game to forget on their return to the Welsh capital.
The Republic of Ireland, who were 1-0 winners here in a World Cup qualifier last October, began their Uefa Nations League campaign with a heavy defeat to Wales tonight in front of a 25,657 crowd at the home of Cardiff City Football Club.
It was a miserable evening for Ireland, who were chasing the game with just over five minutes played thanks to Tom Lawrence’s opening goal. Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey put the result beyond doubt before the half-time break. Connor Roberts scored a fourth for a rampant home side early in the second half, before substitute Shaun Williams pulled a goal back for the visitors.
Wales manager Ryan Giggs couldn’t have hoped for a better start in competitive international football. Giggs will take his side to Aarhus on Sunday for a game against Denmark, the other side in Group 4 of League 2 in the inaugural Nations League.
Ireland, who play a friendly against Poland in Wroclaw on Tuesday, are scheduled to host both Denmark and Wales in Dublin in the space of four days next month (13 and 16 October respectively).
Tonight’s result was the latest blow for Ireland boss Martin O’Neill after a challenging fortnight. Promising youngster Declan Rice has made himself unavailable to O’Neill for the time being as he considers an approach from England, while midfielder Harry Arter has also stepped away from international football indefinitely after being involved in a verbal altercation with assistant manager Roy Keane earlier this year.
O’Neill, who was without seven players due to injuries, set his team up in a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Cyrus Christie operating on the right side of a midfield that also included Conor Hourihane, who was making his first competitive start for Ireland. International debutant Callum Robinson floated between the midfield and lone striker Jonathan Walters.
Real Madrid star Bale was the focal point of the Welsh attack, but it was Derby County’s Lawrence who provided the finishing touch to give them the lead in the sixth minute. After peeling off the back of Ciaran Clark, Lawrence was played through by Joe Allen before finishing emphatically to beat Darren Randolph at his near post.
The Welsh advantage was doubled on 18 minutes. Ben Davies switched the play with a diagonal ball that found Bale on the right. Despite the attention of Clark, Bale was allowed to turn inside onto his favoured left foot. From just outside the box, he struck a delightful curling effort that went beyond Randolph’s reach.
With Hourihane and Jeff Hendrick outnumbered in the middle of the park, Wales continued to dominate possession as Ramsey, Allen and 17-year-old Ethan Ampadu linked up well.
Lawrence went close to scoring his second just after the half-hour mark when he forced Randolph to make a good save after an impressive break down the right by David Brooks. Connor Roberts then narrowly missed the target with a powerful header from a Davies cross.
But a third goal did arrive for the home side eight minutes before the interval. Walters was muscled off the ball by Ampadu, who embarked on a rampaging run deep into Irish territory. The Chelsea teenager then played in Ramsey, whose effort resulted in Randolph being beaten at his near post again.
Ireland’s best opportunity fell to Robinson. A good move down the right allowed Coleman to cut the ball back for the Preston attacker, whose first-time strike was inches too high. It was nevertheless the most promising feature of the first half for an Irish side who once again struggled to retain possession when it mattered most.
Shane Duffy brought a save from Wayne Hennessey when he got his head to a corner shortly after the restart. Robinson then headed over after being picked out by a Coleman cross. Despite a more promising start to the second half for Ireland, Wales went further ahead on 56 minutes.
Bale was the provider on this occasion, his pass across the edge of Ireland’s box finding Connor Roberts unmarked. The ball sat up nicely for the Swansea City right-back, who marked his third international cap with a brilliantly executed volley to make it 4-0.
Millwall midfielder Shaun Williams was introduced for his competitive debut and he got Ireland on the scoresheet in the 66th minute, applying a clever finish after dispossessing a complacent Ramsey. However, it was scant consolation for Ireland as Wales gained a measure of revenge for the defeat here last year which ended their hopes of World Cup qualification.
The future appears promising for Ryan Giggs and Wales. For Martin O’Neill and Ireland, the outlook has seldom been as bleak.
WALES: Wayne Hennessey; Connor Roberts, Ashley Williams, Chris Mepham, Ben Davies (Paul Dummett, 81); Ethan Ampadu (Matthew Smith, 67), Joe Allen; David Brooks, Aaron Ramsey, Tom Lawrence; Gareth Bale (Tyler Roberts, 75).
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Darren Randolph; Seamus Coleman, Shane Duffy, Ciaran Clark, Stephen Ward (Enda Stevens, 61); Cyrus Christie, Conor Hourihane (Shaun Williams, 58), Jeff Hendrick, Callum O’Dowda; Callum Robinson (Daryl Horgan, 77); Jonathan Walters.
Referee: Clement Turpin (France).
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