Ireland’s night of the long knives?
18 Jun, Euro 2012 (Group C): Italy v Republic of Ireland (Poznan)
It seems that a week is a long time in football but, in the curious case of the Republic of Ireland football team, two games is all it has taken for the recriminations to start.
A section of the Irish Press has called into question the manner of Ireland’s two humiliating defeats at Euro 2012 at the hands of Croatia and Spain, with a potential third one coming up tomorrow against Italy in Poznan. What manager Giovanni Trapattoni didn’t do, as to what he did do, is the loaded question.
It’s blatantly obvious to anyone who follows Ireland that we had one of the weakest sides of the 16 on show at Euro 2012. Most of the current squad ply their trade in the lower echelons of the Premier League, with a handful playing at Championship clubs and, in Darren O’Dea and Keith Andrews, two players who don’t even have clubs. So it was always going to be a mammoth struggle to get out of a group that contained Spain, Italy and Croatia.
But what gets the majority riled is the apparent lack of fight in this present Irish team. Yes, they will sweat, but where was the attitude that we will do whatever it takes. I didn’t see it and millions of others didn’t see it, either. Yes, Ireland were 14 games without defeat coming into this summer’s spectacle, and Trapattoni should be applauded for getting these players, this team, as far as he has. But he had to change it against the better teams in the world and, for one reason or another, he chose not to listen or see what could have been done.
Unlike other European nations, we do not have a professional football league. The League Of Ireland is amateur, at best, so we have to play to our strengths and forget about the opposition. The Football Association of Ireland has a decision to make whatever happens in Poznan tomorrow night.
Will they want another two years of regimented football under Italian guidance only to see them humiliated when it matters? Do they want another two years of Team Trapattoni and their struggles with the English language? Do they want young Irish players being ignored when some are playing for higher-placed Premier League sides than others who have been chosen?
Mr Trapattoni has shot himself in the foot, not only with his squad selection this summer and his style of play – or lack of – but also the day he questioned his team’s “fear” of losing. I don’t think that Team Trapattoni has the desire to rebuild this shattered Irish side, with at least half a dozen of them considering their international futures. Would it not be better to hand over to, say, a Chris Hughton or Brian McDermott type of manager who are used to working with young players on a daily basis?
All is not lost. Ireland have some good players coming through the ranks. You only have to look at the under-21s and, in particular, Robbie Brady. The Manchester United striker, who was on loan at Championship outfit Hull City last season, could be a direct replacement for Robbie Keane, who may now want to see his career out in the sunshine of Los Angeles rather than turn out for Ireland in winter World Cup qualifying games.
Kieren Westwood at Sunderland is the obvious choice should Shay Given hang up his gloves and he has shown decent form whenever he has replaced him. There is James McCarthy at Wigan, who couldn’t go to Poland and the Ukraine due to his father’s illness, and he is a regular starter for Roberto Martinez in Lancashire.
Seamus Coleman at Everton is another, Jeff Hendrick at Derby County is a promising midfielder, Wes Hoolahan at Norwich is one who has been overlooked. And maybe a new man could coax Aston Villa midfielder Stephen Ireland out of his self-imposed exile. David Meyler at Sunderland is a tough-tackling midfielder while Joe Mason at Cardiff and Karl Sheppard at Reading could be young forwards to keep an eye on.
Derrick Williams, a centre half, is on the fringes at Aston Villa and Sean McGinty, a centre half on the books of Manchester United, is well thought of. Added to the likes of Shane Long, James McClean, Stephen Hunt, Keith Fahey and Kevin Doyle, Ireland have the makings of a fair international side if they play to their strengths.
Ireland may never again have the nucleus of players that they had in the past and we may never again see those great international nights when Ireland held their own on the big stage. But you have to believe that some of the younger ones will step up to the plate and put Ireland back among the feared opponents in world and European football.
Prediction: Italy 2, Republic of Ireland 1
Also in Group C: Croatia v Spain (Gdansk)
Spain and Croatia, first and second in the group respectively, will qualify for the quarter-finals with a draw as long as Italy fail to beat Ireland. If it does finish all-square in Gdansk and Italy also win, all three teams will be level on five points and, to separate them, it gets complicated. If head-to-head records, goal difference and goals scored were all tied, it would go to the teams’ Uefa “co-efficients” – Spain 43.116, Italy 34.357, Croatia 33.003.
Prediction: Croatia 1, Spain 2