John O'Shea was the only Sunderland player in action last night. Much to the chagrin of Ireland and Sunderland supporters.
Ireland crashed out of Euro 2012 with a bit of a whimper as goals from Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli saw off the boys in green's hopes of gaining any sort of respectability from the final group game.
It was an improved performance from Ireland though, and they didn't roll over quite as easily as they did in the first two games of the tournament.
As far as Sunderland involvement though, it continued to disappoint, with only John O'Shea seeing any action, as Giovanni Trapattoni continued to use Damien Duff and Aiden McGeady on the wings, and perhaps more inexplicably use Jon Walters and Shane Long in relief of the duo.
Anyway, join us as we recap the game, or rather just what John O'Shea got up to over the course of the 90 minutes...
John O'Shea was the only of the Sunderland contingent to start the game, and did so at right back after Giovanni Trapattoni chose to start the game with the same who performed so admirably (sic) against Croatia in the first group game. Trap resisting the opportunity to give James McClean more game experience, or on the very outside chance give Keiren Westwood a game. Not that anyone was particularly crying out for Westwood to play, but Shay Given has been a bit dodgy so far.
For the opening twenty minutes O'Shea had a very easy time of it. He dealt with a cross into the area well inside the opening ten minutes, but other than that was rarely tested defensively as the Italians 4-3-1-2 formation didn't allow them any particular width. Federico Balzaretti provided their only real outlet on the left hand side, and spent the opening quarter barely getting forward as Ireland held their own against the former world champions.
O'Shea played an in inadvertent part in Italy's opening goal. As the corner was swung in from the Italian's left hand side, O'Shea went towards Andrea Barzagli at the front post, already marked by Sean St Ledger, and as the ball drifted over the top of all three of them, Antonio Cassano was there to head the ball over the line. Just, just just enough.
Moments later O'Shea ended up up in referee Cakir's note book. Yellow carded for an innocuous looking challenge on Balzaretti after clashing in the air. O'Shea's outstretched arm caught the defender in the mouth, and while it looked fairly soft, the referee saw otherwise. Strangely despite the tiny trickling of blood from Balzaretti's mouth, he wasn't ordered off the field. Obviously not too bad, the soft git.
With halftime approaching and Italy growing in confidence following the goal O'Shea did well to block a Daniele De Rossi attempt from just inside the area, with the eventual corner coming to nothing.
Halftime, and the Irish much improved on the first two outings, but still more quality needed in attack as Gianluigi Buffon was rarely, if at all, tested. If only they had a wild-card, maverick, little-known to the wider footballing world, attacking player on the bench...
The move everyone's thinking of wasn't made and the Irish went about their business. O'Shea caught in no-mans-land as Cassano saw a shot blocked early in the second half, but he was involved in a more attacking sense as his cross was met by Kevin Doyle, who could only hook the ball well over from near the penalty spot.
O'Shea was once again suspect in defence as De Rossi ploughed a shot well over the bar. Admittedly the effort was poor, however O'Shea also allowed him plenty of space to get the shot in. A better, or rather more attack-minded player, could well have forced Shay Given into action.
The defender might have had half a shout for a penalty on 53 minutes. Following a previous and stronger appeal for Robbie Keane's header off the arm of Ignazio Abate, O'Shea clearly had his shirt pulled from the following corner. Italy didn't stop to argue anything though, and on the counter Di Natale stung the palms of Given with a low effort from the position O'Shea would have been at had this not been a counter-attack. We'll not have a go at him for that at all though.
After an all action start to the second half, O'Shea drifted into a somewhat more quiet role in the game, but continued to look assured in possession and comfortable dealing with whatever was thrown at him on the defensive front. The only problem coming when he flattened Alessandro Diamanti on the edge of the area, but Andrea Pirlo's free-kick from a dangerous position was wasteful. O'Shea making amends moments later in clearing a dangerous ball into the six-yard box.
Other than that, it had been a relatively good game for O'Shea. As we've seen so often, solid if unspectacular, the only blip coming with a few slight positional errors, but we must remember that he's much more comfortable, and better in the centre of defence.
O'Shea survived a hand ball appeal when he challenged for the ball with substitute Mario Balotelli, with replays showing the ball did indeed strike his hand, however intent looked minimal.
Ireland bowed out of the game, and the tournament with Keith Andrews sent off just minutes before Balotelli doubled the lead for Italy. Balotelli being marked closely by O'Shea, managed to hook in a volley from Pirlo's corner. A wonderful goal, and little O'Shea or his teammates could have done about it. Game recognise game, etc.
No appearance for McClean at all. Criminally underused when the Ireland side were clearly flagging and lacking in anything "different" to offer. Rumour has it this could be Trapattoni's final game in charge. His reluctance to give chances to form players and future, exciting players, being his ultimate downfall. Even if it had come to nothing bringing McClean on, it would surely have given the fans and the side a boost which Walters simply can't offer.
Still, all the Sunderland players should have a chance of playing in the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers, where hopefully they'll get more of a chance.