Irish lesser lights can put hands up
Published 07/06/2011 | 05:00
It may be an unrecognisable Irish team that lines out in Belgium this evening but, for Giovanni Trapattoni, there is a happy familiarity about this end-of-season encounter.
He has friends in the opposing camp, with Italy coached by Cesare Prandelli, one of his former players, who has taken advice from Trapattoni on his climb up the managerial ladder.
And there are good memories surrounding the host city as well.
As a 15-year-old, Trapattoni's first international trip in football was to a tournament in Liege. Despite a long life in the game, those kind of landmarks stand out.
Will this be a significant night for the fringe players who step out of the shade and into the Irish starting XI? Hindsight will be the judge of that.
However meaningless a game like this might seem, a consistent theme of the Trapattoni era is the manner in which these matches shape future decisions.
After all, the underwhelming Carling Nations Cup was the stage for Simon Cox to propel himself above Shane Long for Saturday's win in Macedonia.
Low-key games in London and Limerick also gave the likes of Sean St Ledger and Liam Lawrence a springboard from the periphery into the manager's thoughts for the games that mattered.
Trapattoni had plenty on his mind yesterday.
The presence of Italian media steered discussions towards the latest match-fixing scandal that is bringing shame to the game in his native land.
"I am very saddened that the eyes of the world are on Italy and, in a way, we shoot ourselves in the foot. We hurt ourselves," he said.
"It saddens me, particularly when young players are involved. Culturally, we need to find a way to eliminate this.
"We go to schools and speak about fair play, and then something like this comes along. Or what happened in France."
A reference to the anguish of Paris is never too far away when Trapattoni is being quizzed on the general area of corruption.
In the context of this evening, the question is whether any Irish player can force his way into the picture for an autumn, which could well lead towards a similar winner-takes-all play-off.
WHAT IS THE TEAM?
The Irish boss plans to make eight changes from the team which triumphed in Skopje.
Keith Andrews, Darren O'Dea and Stephen Hunt are the intended survivors from that game, although the latter pair both have question marks surrounding their participation.
Hunt is a real doubt; he started on Saturday despite an Achilles problem.
Trapattoni will find out this morning how the walking wounded came out of last night's training session at the Stade Maurice Dufrasne, the home of Standard Liege.
He thought he would have Aiden McGeady available, with the winger stating his desire to be involved.
However, his employers, Spartak Moscow, put their foot down on the matter, which was perhaps understandable given that the Russians are in the middle of their domestic league season and have an important game this weekend.
Simon Cox is rested after his recent exertions, with Shane Long and Andy Keogh leading the line.
Stephen Ward gets a third cap at left-back, while Paul McShane skippers from the right-hand side and Sean St Ledger starts a game for the first time since March, with O'Dea his intended defensive partner and Stephen Kelly on stand-by.
Glenn Whelan is carrying an ankle problem and is therefore left on the bench, with Kevin Foley filling in beside Andrews.
Seamus Coleman is deployed on the right flank, with Liam Lawrence waiting on news of Hunt's availability.
A left side of midfield berth wouldn't necessarily be his preferred position.
HOW MUCH TIME HAVE THEY HAD TO PREPARE?
Not very much, given the turnaround from the weekend.
The players were given the day off on Sunday so they only really got around to running through some possible match scenarios yesterday evening.
Trapattoni doesn't need to do much research on the Italians, and he intends to sit his team down for a video session this morning, to analyse some recent videos of the Azzurri in action.
"I will understand the qualities of these players better against a strong team like Italy," he said.
"I think it can be a beautiful game because we have also the opportunity to play without anxiety for the result."
WHO CAN BENEFIT FROM THIS EXERCISE?
Coleman is the one that stands out. Trapattoni has spoken positively about the rising Everton star over the past fortnight, and it now appears that he may have managed to skip ahead of Lawrence in the pecking order.
The explosiveness of the former Sligo Rovers man is what excites supporters, yet Irish management seem to be happy that the Donegal lad is learning a bit more about the requirements of a wide player in their chosen system.
Trapattoni was extremely positive about the manner in which Coleman slotted into the team to help see out the victory against Scotland last Sunday week.
While the manager didn't get a chance to bring him into the fray on Saturday with Hunt doing such a specific job on Macedonian left-back Goran Popov, this is an evening where the 22-year-old will get a chance to further his progression against Serie A opposition.
With Greg Cunningham sidelined, Ward can make another pitch to become Kevin Kilbane's eventual replacement.
Meanwhile, scouts from England and possibly further afield will be watching how Long copes in this environment.
WILL ANYONE BE THERE TO WATCH IT?
The agent who is organising this game -- and paid six-figure sums to both competing nations -- chose Liege because of the area's long-standing links with Italy.
Local media are reporting that 12,000 tickets have been sold, and if the weather is favourable there could be a good walk-up attendance on the day.
Fans in green shirts will be comfortably outnumbered. Around 500 supporters are expected to make the journey from Ireland.