Bullish Ireland boss demands victory as injury worries fade
ANOTHER huge week for Irish football starts here. After Shamrock Rovers exceeded all expectations by qualifying for a major tournament, the pressure is on Giovanni Trapattoni to deliver the minimum that was demanded when he was appointed.
He came with the brief of securing progression to a marquee event. The infamous exploits of Thierry Henry ended the World Cup dream but, ahead of the crunch battles with Slovakia and Russia, Ireland's European Championship fate is in their own hands.
Trapattoni plans to come to Dublin with Marco Tardelli to attend Rovers' Europa League opener with Rubin Kazan, yet the outcome of his own dalliance with Russian opposition will determine the warmth of the welcome.
His chances of securing a new contract hinge on the events of the next seven days. The stakes are that high.
Ahead of the trip to Moscow next Tuesday, Trapattoni has conceded that nothing less than a win will do against the Slovaks this Friday.
"This first game, Slovakia, we must have confidence," he said. "And this is the game that decides what we have to do in Moscow. We have to go into the Slovakian game with a winning mentality. It's necessary that we win."
Trapattoni has always stressed that the availability of key players is his major worry. In that regard, things have gone quite well in the preliminaries.
The 72-year-old should have his preferred starting XI present on Friday, albeit with a few decisions to make. Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews hold the fort in the centre of midfield, with Kevin Foley as cover; James McCarthy has been left with the U-21s but might be invited along to Moscow if needed.
Aiden McGeady has told Trapattoni that his ankle problem is no more. It is likely that he will raid the flanks with Damien Duff for the Slovakian encounter, although Trapattoni has warned against underestimating Stephen Hunt. "He deserves more recognition," he said. "Maybe he's not as stylish, but he is very important."
Trapattoni has hinted again that he is ready to start with Stephen Ward ahead of Kevin Kilbane at left-full, but was refusing to entirely commit to the idea. Over the week, his pragmatism could kick in. He is conscious that he may need to make three offensive substitutions if the Slovakian game is tight, so a risk in defence might be of concern.
They are good problems to have, however, compared to a shortage of options. Shay Given and Robbie Keane will join up with the squad today, while Darren O'Dea, Sean St Ledger, Shane Long and Richard Dunne sat out various parts of the session after weekend commitments.
"I am conscious of the importance," stressed Trapattoni, with regard to the overall picture. "In the last campaign, we achieved a good position in the table and then we have France. We want the prestige of qualification and we are in a good situation.
"It's important that the whole team works together for the result."