Friday 24 March 2017

seismic

IT probably shouldn't come as a surprise to learn that Giovanni Trapattoni once visited Las Vegas and opted against gambling.

Instead, he took the pragmatic approach by keeping his money in his pocket and praying that divine inspiration was saved for more worthy causes.

"I had been in football since the age of 14," he said. "I couldn't have asked God for any more luck."

The religious among you will therefore find logic in Ireland's escape from Russia on Tuesday with a scoreless draw and, in tandem with results elsewhere, a strengthened position in the race to Euro 2012.

Others will search for answers to the big questions arising from a surreal night of international football action.

How did an Irish team live in their own half for 90 minutes and keep a clean sheet? Is Trapattoni the luckiest manager alive? What on earth happened to Slovakia? And why is the FAI CEO behaving like a match-winning hero after every good away result?

Certainly, in the build-up to a seismic week of activity, few would have anticipated that a haul of two points from six would leave Ireland fans dreaming of a summer in Poland and Ukraine. Group B obviously stands for basketcase.

When the participating teams were unable to reach agreement on a fixture list because of cantankerous behaviour from the Armenian delegation, the vagaries of a computer generated schedule appeared to place the Irish in a position where two weeks would define the campaign.

A pair of double-headers with top seeds Russia and Slovakia -- the first last October, the second in this past week -- were supposed to shape Irish fortunes. A total of three points from a possible 12 is, in the general scheme of things, a very poor return.

And yet, if Slovakia are riled into a response after their drubbing by the Armenians and somehow repeat their winning formula from Moscow when the Russians land in Zilina next month, then concluding victories for Ireland against Andorra and Armenia will book an automatic passage to next summer's finals.

Presumably, if that situation comes to pass, the other members of the FAI board -- who, of course, deserve equal credit for any managerial appointment -- will be compelled to remove their ties and pirouette their way around the Aviva Stadium.

This week's bizarre set of circumstances have thrown up a raft of new debates and permutations. Ultimately, though, the same questions linger.

Inevitably, another Irish display minus creative ambition has prompted discussion about Trapattoni's favoured system and the overall effectiveness of the 4-4-2. By now, it is a familiar refrain and a worthy discussion in the context of the bigger picture.

With all of the Irish underage teams operating in a 4-3-3 with the approval of High Performance Director Wim Koevermans, the senior team are operating in a different manner.

But, in the context of the rest of this crucial campaign, it is a redundant debate. The system will not change. Trapattoni has made it abundantly clear on a number of occasions. And, despite Ireland's obvious vulnerability in the Luzhniki Stadium, the stark reality is that the 72-year-old will view the outcome as vindication of his beliefs.

Yesterday morning, before boarding the flight back to Milan, he hailed the resolution of his senior players in the second half and praised the newer ones, such as Stephen Ward, who he feels will have benefited from a testing evening.

Furthermore, Trapattoni added that the real hero of the night, Richard Dunne, had a convivial chat with management on the way home and offered the opinion that coming through unscathed was evidence that the group had developed a new kind of resolution and organisation.

Some will wonder if the encounter with the running track had impaired the Aston Villa man's thinking.

Footballers tend to use selective memory as results fade into time and the Irish camp will eventually place their escape in the same bracket as the six clean sheets that preceded it.

Next month, when they convene, the Russian profligacy will be forgotten. There will be much talk of going 679 minutes without concession. The thing is, for all that Russia are a far superior side, Ireland are in a position to advance because they are the most consistent team in this group.

approach

The repetitiveness of approach that has made Ireland look so poor in the big games has been at the core of their efficient wins over the lesser-fancied nations. While Dick Advocaat's flaky top seeds have looked in a different league in their encounters with Trapattoni's men, they were extremely fortunate to take six points from Macedonia and floundered in Yerevan.

Slovakia showed defensive fortitude on Russian and Irish soil, and then lost the plot twice against an improving Armenian side.

Ireland, on the other hand, have ploughed along with a brand of unattractive efficiency that was exposed on Tuesday, but was enough to overcome a tricky start and cruise to victory in Skopje.

They were too streetwise for the Armenians on the first night of the group and came away with three points that has grown more precious with each passing day. Assistant manager Marco Tardelli strolled around the Clarion Hotel yesterday with a smile that said I told you so.

He has always stated that the significance of Keith Fahey's winner was underrated at the time.

Perhaps, Ireland's attractive position right now says more about international football than anything else. As much as the purists demand a different approach, a modicum of organisation can take a team a long way.

Trapattoni's makeshift side were blessed on Tuesday evening, yet if they can bulldoze their way past Andorra and Armenia next month -- ironically, a direct physical approach would be the best way to see off the latter -- then the miracle of Moscow will become a footnote.

After all, in this mixed-up world, the winners write the history.

Irish Independent

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