Wednesday 20 September 2017

Ireland's World cup campaign: Start of a bright new future or false dawn?

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

THE mayor of Poznan was in Dublin's St Stephen's Green this week to unveil a photographic exhibition of the Irish invasion of his city, but you can be sure that Giovanni Trapattoni won't be stopping by on his way to Donegal this afternoon.

For the Italian, the time to move on from Euro 2012 came long ago, and he can implement the first part of his plan for the future in Ballybofey today when he names his squad for the August 15 friendly against Serbia in Belgrade.

While many Ireland supporters will wander into St Stephen's Green to rekindle fond memories of a heady two weeks during which they painted Poznan and Gdansk 40 shades of green, sang their hearts out and drank until the wee hours, they will do their best to block out memories of what their team produced in 270 minutes of football. It could be too traumatic to recall such ineptitude.

Trapattoni, however, will have had to rake over the coals of the defeats to Croatia, Spain and Italy as he prepared to name his first squad since those harrowing experiences.

His job is to reshape the team in time for the 2014 World Cup campaign, which begins away to Kazakhstan on September 7.

Trap's success in guiding Ireland to the finals of Euro 2012 earned him an extension to his contract until the end of the next World Cup and, after the ignominy of being in charge of the the worst team in Poland and Ukraine, he will want to leave on a higher note.

The lucky general's good fortune ran out last month. He must now rebuild confidence among those players who remain, while infusing new blood appears to be imperative ahead of a tough qualifying group that also includes Germany, Sweden and Austria.

For so long, the Italian has pointed to this campaign as the one in which the next generation will be introduced. But he has just this one friendly to do so before a swift return to competitive action in Kazakhstan, which will be followed by the visit of a wounded Germany to Dublin a month later.

The lack of time renders revolution unlikely and the changes are likely to be gradual.

So, as Trapattoni sat down to pick his squad for the friendly in Belgrade, what issues did the 73-year-old address and what changes will he make?

THE SENIOR PLAYERS

After all the early talk of a raft of retirements, there is still no confirmation that anyone is ready to hang up their boots.

However, it appears that Trapattoni will not ask the old brigade to make the trip to Belgrade with none of Richard Dunne, Robbie Keane, Shay Given or Damien Duff likely to be among the names in Trap's squad today.

Duff and Keane have given public indications that they would like to continue, while at 32, Dunne still has plenty to offer. The biggest question mark hung over Given, who endured a nightmare tournament in Poland.

NEW BLOOD

In the past when he was faced with questions about young players, Trapattoni pointed to "the future".

That future appears to have arrived, with the World Cup campaign looming large. When he picked his squad for the European Championship finals, the Italian stressed that he was staying loyal to the men who got Ireland back to a major championship for the first time in 10 years. That is irrelevant now.

James McClean (right) managed to squeeze in despite the manager's mantra and the Derry winger should be included and play a greater role, while James McCarthy is expected to return after missing Euro 2012 because of his father's illness.

With the squad likely to be extended, Seamus Coleman will hope to be recalled and his Everton team-mate Shane Duffy should be promoted from the U-21s.

Trap did say he would revisit the talents of Wes Hoolahan after the Euros, but it could be that Hoolahan's Norwich City team-mate Anthony Pilkington fits the Italian's model better.

West Ham goalkeeper Stephen Henderson could figure, while Ciaran Clark and Greg Cunningham come back into contention after Stephen Ward's troubles at left-back.

Marc Wilson's exile could come to an end after the manager hinted at detente with the Stoke City man when he placed him on standby for the Euros.

CENTRAL MIDFIELD

Whether or not Trap decides to change his formation, there will be changes in the midfield for both the Serbia and Kazakhstan games.

Keith Andrews is suspended for the World Cup opener after being sent off against Italy, while Keith Fahey is likely to miss both matches with the groin injury that kept him out of the Euros.

With Glenn Whelan unlikely to be jettisoned, the battle to partner the Stoke man appears to be between Darron Gibson, McCarthy and Paul Green.

Gibson left Poland disillusioned after not seeing any action and it remains to be seen if he will win his manager's trust.

McCarthy's displays at the heart of Wigan's midfield at the end of last season impressed both Trapattoni and assistant manager Marco Tardelli, and it seems more likely that the Scottish-born player will be afforded the opportunity to show what he can do.

SYSTEMS ISSUE

Trapattoni's trusted 4-4-2 came in for fierce criticism in the aftermath of the Euros and he has hinted that this could be the time for a switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Whether or not he follows through with that remains to be seen and little will be revealed in the panel he names today, although his public comments should be as enlightening as ever.

McCarthy could be one to benefit from a switch, with the manager having tried him at the head of a midfield three against Uruguay, and he could revisit the experiment in Belgrade.

If Trap goes with three midfielders, where will that leave captain Keane's future, whose current role would be redundant in a new system?

SO, WHO WILL MISS OUT?

If a raft of new faces do appear, then who will make way?

There is a chance that Trapattoni will return to his old ways and name an extended squad. But, if he chooses to limit the numbers, Stephen Hunt's place will be under threat after he fell down the pecking order in Poland.

The five strikers who were in Poland look set to keep their places.

If Given chooses not to retire, David Forde could vulnerable for the World Cup campaign if Trapattoni promotes Henderson for the trip to Belgrade, while Stephen Kelly could find himself surplus to requirements if room is to be found for the likes of Wilson, Duffy and Clark.

THE FOLEY ISSUE

Kevin Foley looks likely to be included after Trapattoni made contact with the Wolves full-back to try and repair their relationship after dropping him from the squad for the Euros, having initially including him in his provisinal panel.

The Italian's perceived "betrayal" left deep scars with the Luton-born player, who has yet to decide if he will return, and it may take being named in the squad to force his hand.

OUT OF LEFT FIELD?

Are we likely to see the return of Stephen Ireland or a shock call-up for Manchester United youngster Robbie Brady? It's unlikely that we will see any huge surprises as Trapattoni looks for a smooth transition in a short period of time.

Irish Independent

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