London: At least this time England and Ireland managed to complete their match. A scrappy, but peaceful, 1-1 draw on Wednesday left both teams at Wembley Stadium breathing a huge sigh of relief.
This was the first time the rivals had faced each other on a football pitch since hooliganism forced the abandonment of a game between them after 28 minutes, 18 years ago. England fans, who rioted during the 1995 game in Dublin, heeded the warning of England coach Roy Hodgson by mostly refraining from anti-Irish chanting at Wembley Stadium.
"There's so much negativity around," Hodgson said. "But both sets of fans were vocal and ... behaved well. The only thing which stops this evening being a really good evening for me is that we didn't win the game." The potential for provocation was avoided during the national anthems as the music was turned up to full volume, leaving some speakers crackling and the few "No surrender" chants by England fans inaudible to most of the ground.
As England and Ireland held each other to a 1-1 draw for the third consecutive match, the only troublesome moment came when flares were set off, shrouding part of the pitch in green smoke. The game was largely uneventful.
Shane Long headed Ireland in front after 13 minutes and Frank Lampard leveled 10 minutes later with his 29th England goal. In the second half, Ireland goalkeeper David Forde denied Theo Walcott twice and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
"We had sufficient dominance and sufficient goal chances to win the game," Hodgson said before stressing: "I thought that we played well enough." While England heads to Brazil for a friendly against the 2014 World Cup hosts on Sunday, Ireland - fourth in its qualifying group - prepares for a qualifier against the Faro Islands on June 7.
England's sloppy play reflected its struggle to qualify for the World Cup. England is second in its group, two points behind Montenegro with five games remaining. "We do have a lot of firepower not available for us," Hodgson said. "I'll just have to hope that firepower is available in September and October."
More significant on Wednesday was the chance to show that tensions between the countries have thawed. "Everyone was a bit worried, but the two sets of fans were great," Ireland captain Robbie Keane said. After all the pre-match fears, the only scattered boos were heard when defender Ashley Cole - who is not universally popular among England fans - received a commemorative cap for having reached the 100 mark for his country.
On his 102nd appearance, Cole captained England for the first time, and came close to his first international goal early in the second half. "He has been one of the best left-backs in the world for many, many years now," said Chelsea and England teammate Gary Cahill. It didn't start well as Cole's fellow defenders were beaten too easily for the opener as Seamus Coleman floated a cross into the penalty area.
Long darted through and rose above Glen Johnson before sending the header past goalkeeper Joe Hart. Ireland's defending was slacker to allow England to equalize. Daniel Sturridge worked his way down the left flank and, as he whipped in a cross, Lampard started to ghost into the penalty area.
As the ball came off Sean St. Leger and Glenn Whelan, Lampard exploited the confusion to stab the ball home from close range. There was a blow for England when Sturridge was carried off during the first half, adding to Hodgson's injury problems. "It's ligament damage, we think," Hodgson said. "It will definitely keep him out for the Rio game and we think it will keep him out for a few weeks."
With Jermain Defoe on in Sturridge's place, the attack lacked spark. Wayne Rooney, who has missed recent games for Manchester United, never came close to score in his first match in nearly a month. "I'd be hard-pushed ... to say too much negative about the players in our team," Hodgson said.