Daniel McDonnell picks his starting 11 to face Sweden - do you agree?
Published 31/03/2016 | 02:30
The flaws in long-term Euros decision-making have been highlighted by an international window which brought home the fragility of best-laid plans.
Martin O'Neill admitted as much late on Tuesday night as he came to terms with the loss of Rob Elliot from the picture for the summer and setbacks for Daryl Murphy and Kevin Doyle that would have been enough to rule them out of the finals if it kicked off in the next fortnight.
"We've picked up three injuries during the course of these games," he sighed. "That's the way it is. Naturally, from here on, because time is closing, any report of injuries (and) I'll just have to curse my luck and get on with it. I can't do anything about it."
No news is good news. In discussing Wes Hoolahan's international future, O'Neill confessed to selfishly being quite satisfied when Norwich rotate their options because it keeps the midfield schemer fresh for international duty.
At the start of an English season, the Ireland manager worries about players not getting a run-out for their clubs. As the end approaches, it would be no bad thing if some of his leading lights are taken out of the firing line.
He said earlier this week that when the group report for the game with Holland on May 27, the emphasis will shift towards identifying his preferred starting team even if he will still have choices to make about the supporting cast within his 23-man panel.
After a campaign where he used 25 players and employed a couple of different strategies, the picture for Paris is starting to clear up and Tuesday's 2-2 draw with Slovakia did provide some pointers. With 74 days to go until the Stade de France, here's the team that could take the field if setbacks are avoided between now and the showdown with the Swedes.
By doing nothing, Shay Given has gone from lengthy outsider to genuine contender in the space of five days with injuries for Jack Butland and Rob Elliot opening two doors for the veteran.
He needs to play at Stoke to make his Ireland case and that is by no means guaranteed but if he does get games under his belt then it's entirely plausible that he will arrive in Dublin at the end of May as the back-up for Darren Randolph and just one twist of fate away from getting on the pitch.
David Forde is firmly in squad member territory after being overlooked on Tuesday, while Keiren Westwood and Stephen Henderson are the other options. It's difficult to see Randolph being dislodged, however, with his kicking skills actually proving to be quite a big asset.
No discussion about right-back is necessary; the slot belongs to Seamus Coleman. Left-back is open for debate and it would be surprising if O'Neill used the same player there for all three group matches.
Robbie Brady will be on the pitch and, while he offers a lot in midfield, the definition of a positive approach for the opening fixture would be to include the Norwich player on the left side of defence. The alternatives are Stephen Ward and Marc Wilson, although it's possible that one of that duo will miss out completely.
This is an area summed up by a simple equation - three into two won't go. John O'Shea, Richard Keogh and Ciaran Clark all have claims for inclusion against the Swedes and this is a dilemma that could trouble O'Neill.
O'Shea is the senior man and experience could give him the edge when it comes to crafting a plan to stop Zlatan Ibrahimovic - it's not as if speed is the PSG star's greatest asset. Keogh and Clark did really well against Bosnia and the latter, who is comfortable on the left side, might just be in pole position at the moment in terms of striking the right balance.
Wilson started off the campaign as first choice but has a bit to prove due to fitness issues and a loss of form. Shane Duffy is the man for the long term and is probably an injury to the aforementioned quartet away from a place in Versailles.
O'Neill shifted towards a midfield diamond for the home games in the Aviva last year, reasoning that the fluid system allowed Ireland to have an extra man in the middle and also find room for Wes Hoolahan even if it meant relying on the full-backs for width.
He employed it again on Tuesday and acknowledged afterwards that the shape for Slovakia is more likely to be relevant for the summer than the 4-4-2 set-up against Switzerland.
"With the system we had (against Slovakia) we were going to have a fair bit of the ball," he said. It allowed Hoolahan to thrive.
"When Wes is on form he's obviously an excellent addition," he stressed, "But he's not the only one who can actually play for us you know.
"And I think myself if Wes had started in a game where we had played just two midfield players, as we did the other night (Switzerland), he might have struggled because we might not have been able to get the ball."
In other words, Ireland would need to employ tactics similar to Tuesday to ensure Hoolahan is effective. Glenn Whelan is sure to function as the shield with the energetic roles reserved for James McCarthy and Jeff Hendrick. The value of the Derby player's physical presence should not be underestimated. Whelan, McCarthy, Hendrick and Hoolahan were all on the pitch in the second leg against Bosnia.
Harry Arter is the wildcard while Brady is very much in the equation here and both James McClean and Aiden McGeady should anticipate involvement; a strong case could be constructed for McClean starting.
Jon Walters will be on the pitch regardless of what the formation is. He was the most influential player in qualifying and there were games when his brief ranged from scoring goals to shifting back to cover the full-backs; he ticked all the boxes in the defeat of Germany.
Walters also has the attributes to be suited by a quick reversion to Plan B during the game - O'Neill was not afraid to change tack during the qualification mission.
On form, using the Stoke player as support for Shane Long appears to be the way to go.
Oddly enough, they only started two games together on the road to France and both ended in defeat (Scotland and Poland away).
However, they dovetailed well in the final half-hour against the Germans and while O'Neill respects the selfless approach of Daryl Murphy and will bring Robbie Keane as a go-to option on the bench in case of emergency, the pendulum has swung towards an all-Premier League combination.
Long's ability to torment opposing defenders with his speed is the out ball that Ireland could need throughout the competition.
Yesterday, we asked Independent.ie writers to pick their starting 11 for Sweden and this is what they came up with.
Tom Rooney: Darren Randolph, Seamus Coleman, John O’Shea, Shane Duffy, Cyrus Christie, James McCarthy, Eunan O’Kane, Robbie Brady, Wes Hoolahan, Jon Walters, Shane Long. (4-4-1-1)
There are probably a couple of odd looking choices in my side, but I believe they are all justified. Firstly, I would continue with the diamond midfield used against Slovakia last night and, of course, in the famous win over Germany in October.
As evidenced by the turgid display in beating Switzerland, 4-4-2 is not an appropriate system for the current Irish crop.
In goal, Darren Randolph thoroughly deserves his spot, though it was a shame to see Rob Elliot going down injured at the Aviva. Seamus Coleman and John O’Shea are automatic choices in any Irish defence at this stage.
With the Sweden game in mind, the size and power of Shane Duffy may well combat Ibrahimović and, in turn, pretty much neutralise the Swedes. My decision to promote Cyrus Christie to starting left full is based on freeing up Robbie Brady and the width the Derby man can provide in such a narrow system.
McCarthy needs to anchor the midfield behind technical players like Brady and O’Kane that keep the ball and use it constructively. At the tip of the diamond, Hoolahan can pull the strings, with Walters pressing, running and generally wreaking havoc in behind Long, who has earned the mantle of Ireland’s first choice striker.
Will Slattery: Darren Randolph, Seamus Coleman, John O'Shea, Ciaran Clark, Marc Wilson, Glenn Whelan, James McCarthy, Robbie Brady, Wes Hoolahan, Jon Walters, Shane Long. (4-2-3-1)
This team would line up in the in-vogue 4-2-3-1 formation, with Whelan/McCarthy playing in their usual holding roles with an attacking trio of Brady (left), Hoolahan (centre) and Walters (right) behind Long.
I thought hard about keeping Richard Keogh in the heart of the defence but he'll have to settle for a place in the squad. Marc Wilson is battling for fitness at the moment but his return would free up Brady to move further forward, while also covering up his defensive limitations.
James McClean is unlucky to miss out but the midfielder always thrives off the bench in the last 20 minutes.
The Whelan/McCarthy axis isn't particularly strong at passing through an opposition midfield but they are adept at breaking up attacks.
Hoolahan, Walters and Long should be no-brainers after how they propelled Ireland to Euro 2016 but knowing Martin O'Neill, he will surprise us in some way with his first team selection in France.
Ger Keville: Darren Randolph; Seamus Coleman, John O'Shea, Ciaran Clark, Robbie Brady; Glenn Whelan, James McCarthy; Jonathan Walters, Wes Hoolahan, James McClean; Shane Long. (4-2-3-1)
As has been the case for some time now, our centre-half partnership and the left-full position are the main talking points.
Richard Keogh can feel hard done-by not to get the nod following his strong performances towards the end of the qualifying campaign. John O’Shea’s leadership will be a welcome asset in France and Ciaran Clark has proved himself a solid part of Martin O’Neill’s team.
Robbie Brady certainly still has defensive frailties that need to be ironed out and there is a debate as to whether he should start at left-full or left side of midfield.
For me, James McClean must play so Brady will slot in at left back and the back four looks a lot more comfortable with O’Shea there to talk him through those defensive lapses in concentration.
The front six pick themselves with Glenn Whelan and James McCarthy offering some defensive stability and McClean, Walters and Hoolahan providing the industry for the brilliant and energetic Shane Long up front.
Cormac Byrne: Darren Randolph; Seamus Coleman, John O'Shea, Ciaran Clark, Robbie Brady; Glenn Whelan, James McCarthy; Jonathan Walters, Wes Hoolahan, James McClean; Shane Long. (4-2-3-1)
There is an emphasis on solidity in my XI. A defeat to the Swedes would be catastrophic to our chances and this is a team selected to secure a result.
I've resisted the temptation to push Brady further forward despite the fact that the Swedes don't pose a potent threat on the flanks. He's not a natural defender but he's the best left-back at our disposal.
There is plenty of pace in the side with both full-backs, McClean and Long up front. The much-maligned Glenn Whelan should provide a good foil for James McCarthy in their holding midfield role and the creative presence of Wes Hoolahan will be vital for our chances of at least holding parity in the possession stakes.
Darren Randolph has been impressive between the sticks when called upon and it's crucial that he stays fit for the summer. With Rob Elliot injured, David Forde out of favour and Shay Given susceptible at set-piece time, the Hammers custodian has become one of our most important squad members.
I've chosen Ciaran Clark to partner John O'Shea at the back. His no-nonsense style is something we'll need and he gets the nod in front of blooper-prone Richard Keogh and the inexperienced Shane Duffy.
What happens next?
May TBC: In the first half of May, O’Neill will name a provisional squad for the friendly with Holland on May 27. Four years ago, Giovanni Trapattoni picked his 23-man panel at this juncture and England boss Roy Hodgson plans to do the same this time around. But O’Neill will name a larger panel and cut it before the UEFA deadline.
May 23: Players report to Dublin although there could be flexibility related to club commitments and the end of their respective seasons.
May 27: Aviva Stadium friendly with Holland.
May 28: O’Neill has indicated that he will decide on his final 23 after the Dutch game and inform the players at their base in Castleknock. This will be the day where he delivers the bad news to the unfortunate ones.
May 30: The 23-man squad start a pre-tournament training camp at Fota Island in Cork.
May 31: Friendly with Belarus at Turner’s Cross.
June 1: The official deadline for submitting the squads to UEFA. This means that O’Neill can refer to his standby list if anything goes wrong in the Belarus match. After this point, changes to his squad before the first match will only be allowed in the event of ‘serious injury or illness’ – a doctor from the UEFA Medical Committee would have to verify the opinion of the Irish medics before permission is granted.
June 3: Training camp in Fota ends and players are given a couple of days to recharge the batteries before re-convening in Dublin.
June 8: Ireland fly to France as they have to be in the host country five days before their opening fixture with Sweden in the Stade de France.