Republic of Ireland 1-2 Norway

The formations that started the game

Norway continued their fine recent form by beating Ireland on a rainy Wednesday night in Dublin.

From the off, Ireland were moving well against a compact Norway side set out in three very flat banks (4-5-1). But although Ireland retained possession, and had passing options, the ball was stuck in harmless areas. Despite the Irish being set out in a 4-4-2, you could argue that they actually had four banks – the widemen pushing up higher than the very deep centre-midfielders.

Nevertheless, coach Giovanni Trappatoni will have been pleased with his attackers; Kevin Doyle, constantly dragging either Brede Hangeland or Henning Hauger out of position, and Shane Long always offering his colleagues run (either through the D, or down the left channel).

Norway were determined to play just as narrowly in attack as they were in defence. The tactic failed, however, because their players ended up on top of one another, and unsure of what to do, where to go and who was seizing the initiative.

The Irish were far more comfortable in possession, and relished the low tempo of a game where neither side did much pressing. Unsurprisingly, they took an early lead. John O’Shea stepped out with the ball after single-handedly breaking down a Norwegian attack, and slipped Shane Long clean through in the box. Continue reading

Groningen 2-2 Ajax

Emanuelson was Ajax's most potent weapon, forcing Luciano to cover his runs onto scooped passes. The Ajax flyer was aided by Kieftenbeld's roaming. While the Belgian's indiscipline proved costly, Fredrik Stenman's overlaps were coherent and punishing. Like Ajax, Groningen's threat came from the left, but in a different sense tactically - winger/full-back one-twos rather than hit-and-run football.

Ajax squandered a two-goal cushion in their first game of the 2010/11 league season, inexcusably dropping two points. The Amsterdammers can’t even cite the absence of a suspended Luis Suárez as a defining factor – if anyone, it was Jan Vertonghen whom they missed most.

A point apiece was by no means an inaccurate reflection of what was an enjoyable contest for the neutral spectator, one that pitted débutante coach Pieter Huistra against the club whose backroom he departed to join Groningen.

Huistra wasn’t alone in taking a welcoming bow at the Euroborg; Maikel Kieftenbeld, Jonas Ivens and Dušan Tadić shared their manager’s first-game nerves, while Mounir El Hamdaoui made his debut for the visitors.

The Moroccan led the Ajax line well, justifying his selection by burying two awkward-looking right-foot pokes that gave his new employers a 2-0 cushion.

Given the amount of play Vurnon Anita and Urby Emanuelson saw down the left-flank, it increasingly become inevitable at 0-0 that all El Hamdaoui had to do to open his account was time a slide into the six-yard-box. Continue reading