With Gareth Bale watching from the stands, Wales and the Republic of Ireland battled to a scoreless draw in Cardiff on Wednesday.
Sidelined with a foot injury and yet to sort out his future with Real Madrid having very publicly expressed an interest in his signature, the Welshman was exactly the sort of player his side could have used on this night.
Of course, Robbie Keane could have been of use to Ireland as well, but with the 33-year-old absent from the Irish squad for this friendly, his international teammates struggled to create the sort of chances in which the Los Angeles Galaxy striker so often finds himself involved.
Instead, it fell to Shane Long to generate offense for the guests, and with 26 minutes gone the West Brom forward sent his shot well wide of the target following a pass from James McCarthy. Robbie Brady created some openings as well, and at the halftime whistle it was the Irish who looked the likelier side to open the scoring, if barely.
Brady, the Hull playmaker, was replaced during the interval, however, and with him went what little ingenuity Giovanni Trapattoni’s side had once possessed.
Now it was Craig Bellamy attempting to lift Wales from their doldrums, first making an energetic run down the left and then forcing Ireland goalkeeper Keiren Westwood into his first stop of the night following a mostly harmless drive from distance.
Then it was Long, again, this time heading an Ireland corner just over the bar behind Wales goalkeeper Boaz Myhill.
At this point both managers made a handful of substitutions, and if there had been anything resembling a flow to the match, it was destroyed as the clocked ticked past 70 minutes.
Still, there was a final chance for Paddy Madden on his Ireland debut—the Yeovil striker testing Myhill with a purposeful drive and Wales defender Ashley Williams blocking James McClean’s attempt on the rebound.
Mathematically, Wales are still alive in World Cup qualifying, although their faintest of hopes are likely to be snuffed out on the next matchday, whether or not they beat Macedonia on September 6. Ireland, meanwhile, are joint-second in UEFA qualification Group C but in fourth spot on goal difference. They’ll host Sweden on September 6 in a vital match.
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