Trap roadshow can gain early momentum
LET'S hope that events on the pitch in Yerevan this evening run smoother than the chaotic preliminaries in the Republican Stadium.
Pressed into an undersized room, with body heat driving up the soaring temperatures here even further, Giovanni Trapattoni and Robbie Keane encountered a fraught situation drawn from a combination of obtrusive photographers, a superfluous local interpreter and a constant hum of talking and mobile phones. Press briefings, Armenian style.
Fittingly, one of the offending ringtones was an old Jamiroquai tune by the name of 'Virtual Insanity.'
Around that point, Keane leaned back and raised his eyes to the ceiling. Soon after, Trapattoni was doing an impression of a sheep. Another campaign has dawned. Following the Trap roadshow is rarely boring except, some argue, for the majority of the games. It is a theme which refuses to go away.
Every time the Italian begins to play an imaginary violin, the thrust of his argument is that people who want performances of beauty can go to a concert. All he cares about is results.
Ireland's liberation in Paris prompted hopes that the path forward will include a more positive approach on the park. Trapattoni, however, says that the nature of that display was drawn from his players finally realising when it's the right time to attack.
He wishes for them to do the same in this encounter and, considering the sapping heat, the underlying message is that they won't be taking a gung-ho approach.
This summer's World Cup convinced Il Capo that he was on the right track.
"Argentina, Brazil, they play the beautiful football and they go home," he asserts. But what about Spain, comes the retort from the crowd?
"Spain? Yes, of course, but their European mentality is good. 1-0, 1-0, 1-0, 1-0. They not look for four or five or six goals.
"Let me clarify. My team, we know, they know, that all players know the moment when it is right to attack. There are the opportunities. And there are moments when you cannot do it.
"Our players know their own quality, but they need to know about the quality of the other team. I say only to them, be careful. They have to interpret the moment."
From the ashes of Paris emerged a determination to put things right that still burns brightly. In Warsaw, back in February, when the balls threw up what the manager describes as a "crazy" group in travelling terms, his gut instinct was positive. The cautionary note was the scourge of injuries, given the small pool of key players.
The summer friendlies went extremely well, but, since then, it's been anything but plain sailing.
Take the last month. Trapattoni's stint in hospital was followed by a series of ailments affecting key players. Keith Andrews and Damien Duff are injured, back-up options have fallen by the wayside, while the majority of the first XI have suffered some form of setback in this new campaign.
Then there are the likes of Shay Given and Robbie Keane, who must be hurting at the uncomfortable nature of their club situations.
Ultimately, though, nine of the starting XI from Paris will begin tonight, with the enforced absences of Andrews and Duff -- replaced by Paul Green and Aiden McGeady -- the only changes.
Two years ago, Ireland were in Montenegro and came away with a draw which, considering the heat and the difficulty of the assignment, was regarded as a satisfactory outcome. Four points from six was deemed an acceptable return from the opening two games, following a win over Georgia in Mainz.
Yet Trapattoni, at that point, was speaking about Italy as likely group winners and Ireland immersed in a race for second. So, it was an acceptable result in that context. Later, after two draws with Italy that could have been wins, there was rueful reflection on the occasions where the Azzurri built up the lead; specifically, seeing off Bulgaria on home soil and going to Montenegro and winning.
Yesterday, Keane reverted to type by saying that the important thing here was not to lose; however, other members of his dressing-room had articulated the realistic belief earlier in the week when, in no uncertain terms, they stated that winning was necessary.
John O'Shea, in particular, pointed it out quite clearly and he knows about the mechanisms of aiming for top spot.
Armenian coach Vardan Minasyan reckons that Russia and Ireland are the teams to beat, speaking in respectful terms about Trapattoni's impact. He didn't wish to read too much into the Armenian U-21s' destruction of Don Givens' team on this patch or their subsequent joy in Tallaght.
Members of that Armenian side have been fast-tracked into the senior set-up and the €6m Shakhtar Donetsk playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan will attempt to pull the strings as he roves in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Holding midfielders Green and Whelan will need to keep their discipline.
"They have good players, technical players," stressed Trapattoni. "I have seen many of their games and they have secured good results, so we need a good mentality."
The bottom line, though, is that if his key players perform to their maximum then they are capable of taking the spoils. In that regard, the crown jewels are being minded carefully. Dunne was eased back into training at the match venue last evening, while Keane is dealing with a niggling knee problem that troubles him on impact with the ball.
It beats sitting on the bench for Spurs, although he says that recent transfer speculation was water off a duck's back and that there was no firm offer to leave White Hart Lane.
"I had a good pre-season," stressed Keane. "I felt sharp and I'm certainly looking forward to these two matches.
"It was great to get the 100th cap last month against Argentina, but, in a way, I'm delighted to get over it and concentrate on the rest of the games.
"We had a chance to qualify in the last campaign and we missed out, but hopefully it will make us stronger. As captain, there'd be no greater honour than leading the team out at a major finals."
A winning start is essential if that goal is to be achieved.
Prediction: Armenia 1 Ireland 2