IT was all going too well. Just when we thought it was safe to move onto Poland with reputation and unbeaten record intact, Giovanni Trapattoni threw a wobbly and a very significant one at |that in Budapest.
A monsoon and epic thunderstorm almost forced abandonment. Bolts of lighting flashed around the stadium and, for a moment, there was a real danger that Ireland would head to Poland |today without a final preparation match under their belt.
With hindsight, that might not have been a bad idea. From a position of certainty as annunciated by the |manager just a few days ago, there is now a huge element of confusion attached to this Ireland team.
He had claimed that Ireland could now do everything he required with their eyes shut: “I give this guarantee,” he said.
But Trapattoni didn’t like what he |saw against Hungary in the first half in |the Ferenc Puskás Stadium and when questioned about it, he briefly lost control.
His beef was with journalists who pursued him on a suggestion that he had to make changes and whether he meant players or his system. But that was neither here nor there.
The important question was why he has taken so long to see what pretty much everyone else did; that his system and players cannot handle a team |which packs midfield and plays with |one striker.
This has happened too often for comfort in the past and only now does he seem minded to do something about it.
He spoke about the need to review the game as a matter of urgency and decide over the next four days what he can do to address the issue because it will become a live one in six days time against Croatia.
With Slaven Bilic in the crowd, his fourth up-close-and-personal view of Ireland in the flesh, Trapattoni asked Kevin Doyle to drop deep and make up the numbers alongside Keith Andrews and Glenn Whelan. It worked for a while but not for long enough.
And despite all the positive words and calm certainty Trapattoni has been projecting about the games ahead, he blew all that apart with what was a remarkably intemperate outburst at exactly the wrong time.
Whatever it was he saw on the pitch, it made him angry enough to declare in public that he had to now contemplate changes.
Then again, maybe he did make the changes he needed with his best 11 and when push came to shove, they couldn’t handle it against Hungary.
Oddly enough, for those who have followed Ireland closely since Trapattoni took over, the game against Hungary followed a very similar pattern to many in the past.
We watched Russia destroy Trapattoni’s system in Moscow and Dublin and Slovakia did much the same at Lansdowne Road too.
The certainty that Croatia and Spain will play with a lone striker and a man in the hole means that Trapattoni’s plans are in disarray.
He went into the Hungary game clearly hoping that he had found a way to cope
and that his players had been given |the preparation and information they|needed.
For 20 minutes, they seemed to cope well enough but without threatening the Hungarian goal. They played with the same confidence and pace as they did against Bosnia and held onto the ball well.
But as the half progressed, Hungary began to work the same patterns Russia and Slovakia did to such devastating effect during the qualifying campaign.
Suddenly, as before, Ireland’s defence was under ferocious pressure and Shay Given, for so long a big doubt, pulled off |two truly world class saves.
He kept his team in the game and prevented what might have been a rout had the line been breached.
So too did the imperious Richard Dunne and Sean St Ledger, restored to their familiar partnership and ready when required to throw themselves into tackles and lunging clearances on a pitch which was like a skating rink.
The introduction of Jon Walters for the second half made a big difference but only because the ball was hit long and pressure applied up the pitch.
That certainly didn’t solve Ireland’s midfield dilemma and while they just |about shaded it on chances after the break, there was many moments when Hungary’s ability to bypass Trapattoni’s midfield opened a path to goal.
By then, Keiren Westwood was between the posts and he had to make a couple of |top-notch stops to keep the score blank.
This was wake-up call for everyone, though perhaps not for Trapattoni who seemed to believe that the preparation in Montecatini had ironed out any remaining glitches.
That is clearly not the case and between now and Sunday’s Euro 2012 opener in Poznan, Trapattoni has more work to do.
The real question now is whether he has misjudged his players’ ability to do what he needs or they simply don’t understand him.