Sunday 24 September 2017

iceland finding place in changing world

This time two years ago, Ireland were gearing up for a Euro 2012 play-off with Estonia, a game that they safely negotiated. At that point, Giovanni Trapattoni's side had ascended to 21st in the FIFA world rankings, although the difficulty in reaching a World Cup was emphasised by the fact that it was still only good enough for the 14th best team in Europe – 13 teams from the continent make it to the finals, which is disproportionately low in that context, despite Sepp Blatter's vote-driven observations to the contrary.

Still, it's worth looking at where the teams involved in this week's play-offs were ranked at that juncture. Portugal (7th), Croatia (8th), Greece (14th), France (15th) and Sweden (18th) were ahead of Ireland. Ukraine (55th) have improved although not playing competitive matches pre-Euros affected their standing, while Romania (56th) are back making strides again.

But the most extraordinary jump has come from Iceland, who were ranked 104th in the world when Trapattoni and Co made it to Poland. Should they overcome Croatia in their two-legged tie, it would go down as one of the most remarkable achievements in qualification history.

NUMBER OF THE DAY

3 Players involved in Roy Keane's last Irish appearance that are present in Malahide this week. They are John O'Shea, Andy Reid and Robbie Keane. Richard Dunne, another starter that night, is rested for this gathering.

GAFFER WARNS OF UGLY SIDE TO PARTYING HARD

Martin O'Neill has a deep reserve of anecdotes, and as he discussed the issue of discipline and drinking he took umbrage at the suggestion that it is an Irish thing. There was a passing reference to the exploits of Bryan Robson, but he reserved special words for his old Forest team-mate Larry Lloyd.

"Lloydy was a partygoer," he recalled, fondly. "I mean, he's a mountain man now but he used to be handsome. He was a big handsome man and he didn't have a problem getting women. He's ugly now."

There was also time for another couple of digs at his old foe Paolo Di Canio, a theme which is sure to be a feature of the early days of this regime.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"She's from the rough side"

– the answer from Alex Pearce, when asked what part of Dublin his late grandmother Charlotte Pearce hailed from.

It was subsequently corrected to the Northside by the assembled press corps.

He was then asked for the name of his father (Don) and any other relatives he might have in Ireland, perhaps in the hope that their surname might strike a chord. Pearce mentioned that an uncle lives in the capital.

Pressed on his name, he delivered the memorable response 'Uncle Eric'.

Irish Independent

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