Trap demands Irish redemption
REDEEM yourselves and retrieve the situation. That was the message Giovanni Trapattoni hammered home to his players the morning after the desperately deflating Euro 2012 reverse at the hands of Croatia.
Ireland find themselves in a grim position in Group C, knowing that defeat against Spain would mean elimination before the concluding tie with Italy.
The nature of the Croatian loss has increased the scrutiny on the manager's decision-making process and, while he remains frustrated by individual mistakes and refereeing calls, the 73-year-old still acknowledges that Slaven Bilic's men were worthy winners.
However, the Italian, as ever, drew comfort from closer analysis of the DVD, and has challenged his squad to respond to a crushing setback in the right manner.
"I reminded them why they qualified," he said. "We have good quality. And we must continue to believe that anything can happen in 90 minutes. I have to give these players an opportunity for redemption."
So, the boss is leaning towards minimal changes for the Spanish encounter, shunning the temptation to dramatically alter a formula that Bilic easily picked apart. He wants his players to demonstrate that they can be so much better.
But the Irish public will be looking for the same from the manager in response to a momentum-stopping setback.
What is the reaction from here? Well, it's more likely to be Plan A2 than anything radical. To a degree, that is understandable with just four days between the matches, but the struggles against Croatia reflect poorly on an aspect of preparations.
Over the past two years, Trapattoni and Marco Tardelli have spoken consistently about the restraints around normal qualifiers. The maintenance of a solid 4-4-2 was supported on the basis that two or three days before games wasn't enough time to instigate change.
Ireland have spent three weeks together here, mostly working on one plan, a system that revolves around defensive organisation.
When a team makes errors like Ireland did on Sunday -- which Trapattoni attributes to getting caught up in the occasion instead of a loss of concentration -- you are left with very little. By contrast, other nations have modified their modus operandi to cope with circumstances. Italian boss Cesare Prandelli reverted to a 3-5-2 to stop a Spanish team that also threw a curveball.
Trapattoni will point to their superior range of options. Yet, in the forward areas in particular, he does have players who can offer versatility. Instead, Ireland were rigid throughout the Croatian match. The wingers didn't even swap sides once during the game, the most basic of switches to mix things up.
What happens now? With Robbie Keane seemingly undroppable -- although his lack of mobility in the Croatia match was noticeable -- Kevin Doyle is primed to lose out. Jonathan Walters is the favourite to be tasked with a role that will involve both supporting the skipper and countering the Spanish shirts that shall own the ball.
Beyond that, it could well be more of the same unless Trapattoni is playing games with us all.
TOO EARLY FOR
A McCLEAN BREAK
Anthony Pilkington, David Meyler and Shane Duffy are three young players who may be involved in the World Cup 2014. But they used their Twitter accounts on Sunday evening to express their amazement that an outstanding young talent, James McClean, was an unused substitute. Generally, observers from England and beyond are bemused by criticism of Trapattoni considering he has taken a limited team to the finals.
However, even our friends from across the water were taken aback by the manager's reasoning for leaving the Sunderland man on the bench in the Croatia game.
"I have a duty," he said. "In this situation, there is tension. And you can understand how much more tense a young player can be. It's important we give them the quiet opportunity. Not when we need performance under pressure. It's a heavy weight on his shoulders."
And that remained his firm conviction, even when it was mentioned that the 23-year-old had shown no fear in adjusting to life to the Premier League. Indeed, it was his lack of inhibition which took opposing defenders by surprise.
"He will come in the future," continued Trapattoni. "We have a concrete team."
Simon Cox, a recognised striker, got the nod instead. In last week's 11 v 11 training game, he was on the left of midfield, with McClean on the right, and Stephen Hunt at left-back. And, from that position, he did display an eye for goal.
Trapattoni said he wanted Cox on the pitch because he is more clinical than his four wingers -- but the West Brom man often found himself pegged back away from the final third.
Again, it comes back to the shortage of flexibility, which concluded with square pegs in round holes, and round pegs sat on the bench.
It is natural, of course, that the Ireland manager would come out yesterday speaking positively about the game in Gdansk. That is his responsibility. A large number of observers already fear it's game over, but the man in charge is hardly going to come out and say such a thing.
Similarly, the players will speak today, and you can be sure they will bang a similar drum. "Usually our team plays better in particular situations against these famous teams, these famous players," stressed Trapattoni.
But it was polite queries from foreign inquisitors about the selection policies of his opposite number, Vicente del Bosque, that brought home the scale of the task. Trapattoni reckons that Fernando Torres may start, although he said that the Spanish manager could also stick with no recognised striker and deploy David Silva, Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta in roving roles supported by a base of Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso and Xavi. He didn't mention Fernando Llorente or Juan Mata either.
It's a scary proposition and, after their draw with the Italians, the Spaniards will view this as their big chance. If Ireland had taken a positive result against Croatia, anything from the Spanish fixture was a bonus. Now, it's essential for survival.
"Our shirt is heavy," said Trapattoni. "We have heart, we have mentality, we have attitude, we have commitment."
The reality, however, is that all those attributes may not be enough within the existing framework. And then it will be Trapattoni who is searching for redemption.