It may have come in his 11th cap but David McGoldrick can say his first international goal was well timed, as it earned a point that sustains Irish belief in qualification for Euro 2020. That ambition looked far-fetched after Fabian Schär shot Switzerland into the lead, but Ireland, second best for much of the game, rallied to earn a draw.
Going into this game Mick McCarthy had not been fooled by his team’s position at the top of Group D, knowing Ireland had benefited from a more favourable early schedule than their chief rivals, especially Switzerland. The Swiss have played fewer qualifiers because they spent the summer trying to reach Euro 2020 through the Nations League, where they finished fourth as a result of that penalty shootout defeat by England in June. So the group’s top seeds arrived in Dublin on a catch-up mission made all the more necessary by their recent draw with Denmark.
Handy schedule notwithstanding, McCarthy had taken heart from his team’s first four performances so it was no surprise that he made only one alteration here to the lineup that started the home win against Gibraltar, Glenn Whelan coming into midfield. The attack was led by Callum Robinson and David McGoldrick, two of three Sheffield United players to start, the other being the left-back Enda Stevens.
That trio have done well in the Premier League since their club’s promotion and McCarthy hoped that they and the rest of his team would step up with similar style to the challenge posed by Switzerland, ranked 11th in the world. Could Ireland summon enough spirit and quality to produce another entry into their anthology of great underdog performances?
They mustered the spirit all right but Switzerland soon began to demonstrate superior technical skills, tearing holes in the home midfield. But their finishing was ropey.
Shane Duffy had to make a hasty recovery tackle in the fifth minute to prevent Breel Embolo from firing off a shot from 12 yards after nice work down the right by Kevin Mbabu. But seven minutes later it was Mbabu’s turn to rush to his team’s rescue, as he threw himself in front of a shot by James McClean after Ireland’s only classy move of the first half.
Moments later Mbabu put himself in harm’s way again, this time taking a boot in the head from Stevens as he challenged for a ball on halfway. The Spanish referee, Carlos Grande, showed Stevens a yellow card for raising his foot too high – others might have opted for a red. As an exhibit, that tackle alone spoke of a wider truth: Ireland had boundless vim but little precision.
The Swiss, with the lion’s share of possession, grew in menace as the first half progressed. After an incisive pass by Denis Zakaira in the 22nd minute, Duffy had to act quickly again to block a shot by Haris Seferovic. Richard Keogh completed the clean-up job before Embolo took advantage.
Ricardo Rodríguez reprieved Ireland by skewing a volley wide from the edge of the area before Granit Xhaka had a long-range free?kick deflected wide. At least Zakaria forced Darren Randolph to make a save when he let fly from 20 yards just after the half-hour.
Ireland’s tenacity never waned and Seamus Coleman launched a counterattack just before the break after winning possession near halfway and releasing McGoldrick, whose cross was fractionally too long for Robinson.
With neither side sharp when it mattered most, the game was up for grabs as the second half got under way. Ireland began it with confidence, playing higher, faster and more tidily. Swiss defenders became uncomfortable but their forwards had more space on the counterattack: Stevens did brilliantly when left to repel two attackers by himself. Near the hour, with Switzerland threatening to dominate again, McCarthy introduced Alan Judge for Robinson. That was an attempt to improve service to McGoldrick. But Ireland would have to get the ball back first.
Switzerland earned their clearest chance yet with a slick move in the 62nd minute, only for Embolo to slip as he tried to finish from eight yards.
In the 74th minute the Swiss opened up Ireland with a move of clockwork precision, Schär joining in a one-touch attack to guide a low shot into the net from 15 yards. That turned out to be the cue for Ireland to work up a storm. Glen Whelan hit a thunderous shot against the bar in the 84th minute and then, a minute later, McGoldrick leapt high to head a deflected cross by McCLean into the net from eight yards.