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Irish unfazed by magic men

BURIED at the back of the programme for Ireland's close encounter with Brazil at the Emirates, Arsene Wenger offered his thoughts on the visit of one of football's blue bloods to his home patch and once again, his condolences to Ireland.

On the night, Giovanni Trapattoni watched his players pick up where they left off in Paris back in November and then fall apart in the face of a hard, physical and, of course, ridiculously talented bunch of South Americans.

But it is a measure of the progress made that Trapattoni could say after the game that Ireland matched Brazil for most, if not all, of the first half and that it was tired legs and minds rather than a huge gap in ability which decided the result.

That and another dodgy linesman. If Trapattoni has a streak of paranoia, he must wonder about match officials and the fact that they seem to drop the biggest clangers of all when he's around.

"We saw 45 minutes of a very, very beautiful game," he said. "I think we played the same level as Brazil and thought we could have continued at that level and would have not lost. With their goal the referee has "special eyes" in this friendly game. The first goal was offside."

Indeed it was and if we're lucky, the brotherhood of whistlers have now done the worst they can do to Ireland and Trapattoni. We've taken enough from them and perhaps someone in FIFA would point this out to the men in black.

But back to Wenger. It is worth repeating what he said in his programme notes because his words show how big an impact Trapattoni and his players have made on the general football consciousness outside of Ireland -- and not just because of Thierry Henry.

"The way France beat them in the play-offs will forever remain one of the most famous injustices in sport that will go down in history. Nobody will ever forget what happened to this team," said Wenger, reiterating his stated position in the immediate aftermath of the Stade de France debacle.

"But we shouldn't forget that they have quality. I was impressed by their intelligence, their organisational skill and with the freedom of personality they expressed against France."


"This is a good generation for the Irish team and what strikes me about this side is that they are all intelligent. They know where to be on the pitch, they behave well collectively and they have a team intelligence. It's the team attitude that strikes you most but saying that, when you look through the squad, they have good players in every position," said Wenger.

This assessment of the strength of Irish international football is all the more interesting because it is offered without any baggage. Wenger didn't mention direct football or an overly physical approach, as is his habit, and focused instead on the collective intelligence of a group of players who have grown together to become something formidable.

That was clear to everyone in the 40,000 crowd at the Emirates and no doubt to everyone else who watched the game. The tempo and patterns we saw in Paris were repeated in the first 45 minutes and there were moments when Ireland actually passed better than Brazil and caused major problems for Dunga's defence.

But the Irish team lacked a cutting edge and this must be the main source of concern for Trapattoni as he starts to build towards the autumn and the Euro 2012 campaign.

Robbie Keane's future is a key component of Trap's plans but there is now a question hanging in the air about the Irish record marksman's career and where he will go once his loan deal at Celtic is finished.

He stayed on the pitch for the full 90, which in itself was puzzling, given the fact that just 24 hours earlier, he had an injury which prevented him from travelling to London.

Keane is Trapattoni's big Irish success story and however much the Celtic/Spurs striker has struggled to put together a run of goal scoring consistency at club level over the years, his strike rate for Ireland was crucial in the World Cup qualifying run.

Without those goals, Trapattoni has a problem. Without Keane playing at the highest level in the Premier League, there must be a concern that he will not be able to maintain his level of performance for the international team.

Ideally, he needs to return to Spurs and try to persuade Harry Redknapp that he can still cut it but in the absence of that, he must move to another Premier League club or he will find himself marginalised in the SPL.

Fortunately, the same will not be said of James McCarthy again for at least the next decade. He didn't get much of a chance to impress everyone against Brazil but still managed to do just that.

It would be a huge surprise if there isn't a serious auction for McCarthy this summer. Wenger might even be one who would look at the kid and see a player who could work well in Arsenal's midfield.


He oozed composure at the Emirates and seemed to slot into the senior international game as easily as he has risen to meet the demands of every new level he's been introduced to over the past three or four years.

He came on at a time when Irish legs were stretched beyond limits and could not have been expected to have a significant influence on the game. There will be other opportunities and Trapattoni should give him a proper outing against both Algeria and Paraguay at the RDS in May.

Trapattoni needs to know where he's going to use McCarthy and the only way to find that out is to play him and in between now and the two summer friendlies, haunt Wigan until he's sick of the sight of him.

There are so many young lads now putting their faces in the frame that Trapattoni really does have to get up off his backside and make the trip to England as often as he can to keep an eye on the new talent emerging.

Last night's game served it's purpose and gave us all something else to talk about other than Henry.

The summer ahead will be difficult for all Irish football fans but there was enough in the performance against Brazil to sugest that Paris was not a one-off; that we now have an Irish team capable of living with the very best.

Much work has to be done and Trapattoni desperately needs the 10-day training camp he's been talking about, though without any noticeable response on the subject from the FAI.

The best he got was from CEO John Delaney who muttered "we'll see" when asked about a camp at the Euro 2012 draw in Warsaw, but with so many good young kids now knocking on the door, a big effort must be made to deliver what Trapattoni wants -- even if the financial outlay is significant.