Though Ireland remain likely to finish runners up in the group after successive draws with their main rivals for World Cup qualifi cation, Fearghal Kerin remains frustrated at their results.
IF THE HYSTERIA that greeted the Irish rugby side’s Grand Slam win was great, then one can only imagine what solace this recessionhit isle would fi nd in a World Cup campaign.
Rugby has, and always will be, a sport that ordinary, non-day-to-day fans have struggled to understand the rules of, though the recent spate of nouveau rugby experts would beg to differ.
Soccer, unlike it’s oval-balled cousin is easily identifi ed with the masses, 80- year-old granny, or eight-year-old boy, everyone has a passing interest in the soccer team, and something like a month of World Cup fever, as things are at the moment with the depressing mood in the country in general, would greatly surpass the coverage the rugby boys have gotten over the past month.
We’re also told that poor economic circumstances breed talented soccer players, with some of the greats coming from the slums of South America. Though the Celtic Tiger’s downfall would have to steepen greatly for us to end up in a similar situation to that that bred Pele and Maradona, we can still be disappointed in the contributions of our footballers to continue to add to the hazy glow of success covering Ireland in the wake of Bernard Dunne and the Grand Slam.
That Ireland failed to take full advantage of their extra man against Italy left many disappointed, especially those who hoped Giovanni Trapattoni’s knowledge of Italy would see him mastermind their downfall (as he did in the 2002 World Cup), the drivel at Croke Park against Bulgaria put to bed Ireland’s chances of topping the group and thus gaining automatic qualifi cation.
Despite the result, it is diffi cult to foresee Ireland managing not to fi nish above Bulgaria, though similarly, it is hard not to imagine that whoever Ireland face in the play-offs will not outplay Trap’s forges. Northern Ireland’s result against our recent conquerors Poland raises the possibility of us facing, and losing, to our adjoining neighbours in what would be one of the largest sporting occasions we’ve seen, putting Munster v Leinster in the shade.
“How we can play at home to a Bulgarian side shorn of their main men, take the lead after 44 seconds, and then attempt to hold on to that lead for the rest of the game boggles the mind”
The reasoning for such negativity is simple, and two-fold. First of all, is the tactics. How we can play at home to a Bulgarian side shorn of their main men (£30 million Dimitar Berbatov in particular, aswell as Manchester City’s unfortunate Valeri Bojinov), take the lead after 44 seconds, and then attempt to hold on to that lead for the rest of the game boggles the mind.
The tactics seem wrong, though we cannot blame Trapattoni for this. That he would adopt what would ideally be a pragmatic and effi cient system was something that Johnny Giles, Ray Houghton, John Delaney and the rest of the selection committee knew when they offered the 70-year-old the job. His adherence to such a typically Italian system has spanned his entire career, this is not knew since he took up employment in Merrion Square.
Holding onto a lead is one thing, but we have now seen Ireland try to kill out a game in that way twice in the group in home games, with the last being against Cyprus. At Croke Park, surely we can manage to come out and play against the Cypriots?
The problem, largely, lies with the midfi elders. Arguably, the two midfi elders lining out have been the fi fth and sixth best Irish midfi elders, behind Stephen Ireland, the two Reid’s (though Stephen’s absence is hardly the management’s fault) and Darron Gibson.
The Stephen Ireland conundrum has been long discussed, but it is becoming increasingly clear how poor our prospects lie with the Andrews-Whelan axis in midfi eld; two players who are scarcely of Premier League standard are the fulcrum around which this team jerkily rotates. Ireland on the other hand has been one of the best players in the Premier League this season, and could fi t seamlessly into any team on the planet at this time.
Instead, we are happy to make Ireland out as the villain, to accede to the demands of the likes of Stephen Hunt, who bullied Ireland out of the squad to begin with. Surely if the choice is placating the likes of Hunt, who has the fi rst touch of Dirk Kuyt on ice skates, or picking a midfi elder who could add true dynamism we have lacked ever since, dare I say it, Roy Keane donned the Irish jersey, surely Trap and his lieutenants can only have one choice? A true pragmatist would win at all costs, even if that meant spiting himself to pick the best team.
Sadly, we have the wrong man for that in Giovanni Trapattoni, and we will not see Stephen Ireland under the present management, and likely under the next regime. This means that this qualifying group will likely go on to be a damp squib for us, with an inevitably elimination at the hands of a second rate nation in the play-offs.