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Irish delight at England draw

After waiting 18 long years for this match, there was little chance that the Republic of Ireland were going to start slowly as they reignited their rivalry with the old enemy, England.

This was only their sixth visit to Wembley and nobody was going to be late to the end-of-season ball. And once the teams trotted out for the national anthems, the atmosphere cranked up as both sets of supporters mixed well, with not a sniff of the trouble that ruined their last meeting in 1995.

On the pitch, everything went according to plan for Ireland as they pressed England high, moved the ball quickly, and tried to unsettle their hosts. A shot wide from Robbie Keane signalled their intent to spoil things for Roy Hodgson's team and prove that every underdog does get their day to shine.

There really shouldn't have been any surprise about how Ireland would play. Under Giovanni Trapattoni, they are as predictable as they are courageous with their 4-4-2 formation demanding maximum effort from every player, but also putting them under a lot of pressure defensively - especially against a team like England with so many quality individuals.

Yet, it was the boys in green who took the lead when Shane Long got in front of his marker, Glen Johnson, on 13 minutes to rise up and head in Seamus Coleman's cross. The large away support amongst the 80,126 crowd erupted in joy and celebrated as if it were a World Cup final.

Unsurprisingly, England hit back when Frank Lampard converted from close range after Sean St Ledger did his best Irish dancing impression when attempting to clear Daniel Sturridge's cross. That made it level with the scores, but Ireland stayed level with their opponents in most other areas too.

They may not have the kind of personnel - Premier League, Champions League and Europa League winners - to call on, but discouting the spirit of a team is always foolish. It's not that England did that, they just didn't have any response to it as they frequently were met by a green wall of defenders.

A lot of the Irish players stood tall and showed that they can raise their level of performance against top teams. And any managers on the look-out for a summer bargain, they will surely have been impressed by Coleman, James McCarthy, and even goalkeeper David Forde.

Both Coleman and McCarthy are well known within the Premier League due to their consistent displays for Everton and Wigan Athletic respectively, but Forde, a long-serving player with Millwall, caught the eye with a couple of superb saves late on to deny Alex Olade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott.

There are bigger games to come for Ireland - most notably next Friday's World Cup qualifier at home to Faroe Islands - but matching England on their home turf was exactly the confidence booster that Trapattoni's team required. They needed to believe that they could hold their own against a big nation - and they did that.

Of course, this was only a friendly and many will argue that that is how England treated it. But try telling that to the Irish supporters who sang loudly "You'll Never Beat The Irish" long into the night. This is one they will savour for years to come.

For Trapattoni, he has been given some much-needed breathing space and he can now focus on qualifying for the 2014 World Cup with his players a lot more confident of achieving big results.


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