Trap focuses on same old little details
WE are in the most significant week for Irish football since the one that ended with that night in Paris, but it sure doesn't feel like it. The calm before the storm.
Maybe it's because the visit of Russia, the top seeds in Group B, has come so early in this Euro 2012 qualification campaign. Maybe it's because they lack the same star quality or name recognition as the French and Italian sides that visited Dublin last autumn.
Or maybe it's because Giovanni Trapattoni is presiding over an Irish team about whom there is little more to say until they tackle another game of this magnitude.
The Irish manager spent half an hour speaking about this match in the Hilton Airport Hotel yesterday but, in truth, there was nothing startling to report from the exercise. As expected, he named an unchanged team.
As usual, he spoke with confidence about their ability, their mentality and their solidity. Then, he repeated some anecdotes.
It's a familiar routine by now. Eleven months have passed since the World Cup dream died and, by now, everyone is done with talking. Since then, the Irish camp has exuded confidence that they'll get it right this time.
With the blame for elimination shifted elsewhere, the manner of the display in France convinced Trapattoni that his methods were correct.
Indeed, were it not for injuries to Damien Duff and Keith Andrews, it's quite plausible to say that he would have gone into battle tonight with exactly the same starting XI, even with Aiden McGeady on the upgrade.
Sure, there have been little tweaks here and there. Paul Green has emerged, but he is a clone to the system.
The training camp in May merely indoctrinated the newcomers to the Trapattoni way. It carried his team through the September qualifiers against Armenia and Andorra as well, despite the nervous moments in Yerevan.
The bottom line, however, is that we come into this week with no debate about the team or no guessing games about the style of play. It's just a case of finding out if last year's approach can still be effective, with a better outcome at the end of it.
That's why Robbie Keane didn't really know what to say when asked how Ireland could make the jump from a team who draws with teams seeded above them -- as was the case in all four meetings with Italy and Bulgaria in the World Cup campaign -- to a side that actually beats them.
"Score more goals than them," quipped Keane, although there wasn't really a more considered answer to follow. "We didn't lose any games in the last campaign so if we can keep the same mentality and pull those draws into wins, there's no reason tomorrow why we can't win the game."
So there you have it. In fairness John O'Shea touched on a pertinent point last month, stressing that a deficiency in this Irish side is their inability to capitalise on good situations when they arise. Essentially, they are intent on tidying up Plan A rather than altering it.
The fear is that the moral outrage in the wake of Paris has instilled a false sense of security. France and Italy flopped in South Africa, although the Azzurri tinkered around with a formula that worked in qualification while Raymond Domenech and his dressing-room just needed a bit of extra time in each other's company before completely imploding.
What this Irish team definitely offers is consistency and Trapattoni has shied away from altering the methodology in case that element is lost.
"We have a good balance. We will be compact," he said. "I say to the players, play the same as we did against Armenia. And also Paraguay, and France. That is important. The group. Solid."
Of course, the players will be well versed on the strengths of the Russians and may tinker accordingly as the game progresses. Much depends on the movements of Andrey Arshavin.
Trapattoni refused to reveal if any specific measures would be taken to stop the Arsenal maestro, acknowledging that he is liable to pop up in a variety of different areas. His belief is that if his players can press to good effect and retain their shape, then they can neutralise and cause their own problems. All the little details.
He will look to McGeady for creative flair, enthused by the player's growing intelligence on the pitch, but this represents a major test for a player who has blown hot and cold in the green jersey.
The other minutiae to tighten up are the set-pieces, something the manager likes to leave until the very end of preparations. His opposite number, Dick Advocaat, noted the clever execution of the corner which led to Kevin Kilbane's headed opener against Andorra last month. "It was a good header after a good block (an Irishman stood in front of Kilbane's marker as the ball floated into the box). We need to be sharp and keep an eye on that."
While the Irish dressing-room is anticipating a positive approach from their visitors, whose need for three points is arguably greater, Keane suggested that the encounter could resemble a game of chess in the early stages. Advocaat spoke like a man who anticipated a full-blooded occasion.
"Maybe he (means) that they will wait early on to have a look," he said, when Keane's prediction was relayed to him. "He knows that if he gives us space, then we can damage them."
And what of Ireland? Well, having undergone his own research, Russia's coach -- who was at the RDS for May's 3-0 victory over Algeria -- articulated the predictability which has defined Trapattoni's tenure, a contrast from the schizophrenic team the Italian inherited.
"The Irish team has no secrets," said the 63-year-old. "If they can attack, they will attack. If they need to defend, they will defend. No secrets."
Tonight, we'll find out if that predictability is still such a good thing.