Wednesday 17 January 2018

David Kelly: Dunne key to Ireland's hopes

Trap's troops must start strongly and keep foot on pedal to sink visitors, writes David Kelly

Richard Dunne seems to be looking for diving intervention
Richard Dunne seems to be looking for diving intervention
Zlatan Ibrahimovic in playful mood during training
David Kelly

David Kelly

ANYTHING less than four points from tonight's home clash with Sweden and Tuesday's more foreboding trip to Austria will leave Giovanni Trapattoni's Ireland regime hanging by the slimmest of threads.

A win would seem more likely at home to the stuttering Swedes, but Ireland have habitually struggled to assert their superiority against mid-range opponents on home turf.

Should they fail to win tonight, the pressure will most certainly be on to emerge with something more substantial in four days time.

Robbie Keane promised "something different" this season and also reiterated that his own role will be altered from the deep-lying one he fulfilled in the reverse fixture. The result also needs to be different.

FIVE KEYS TO IRELAND VICTORY

1) Richard Dunne must prove he's up to it

The return of the 'wardrobe' has been hailed by all and sundry as the fixture and fitting that will enable Ireland to haul themselves back into qualification contention, but little serious analysis has been conducted into how well-prepared he can possibly be.

Now languishing in the Championship – a level that may be fine for the preparation of a good clutch of Irish international players – one hopes that he will be up to the more taxing task of attempting to bully the brutish Johan Elmander or dance toe-to-toe with the elegantly enigmatic Zlatan Ibrahmiovic.

Days away from his 34th birthday, three operations, a year on the sidelines and Ireland's dismal Euro 2012, it remains to be seen how physically capable Dunne will be at this level.

Having a defensive partner, who, last weekend, again demonstrated his tendancy for self-destruction, could well be a hindrance, not a help.

One thing in Dunne's favour is that, should the Swedes decide to deploy Elmander as Ibrahimovic's sado-masochistic, long-distance running partner, the fare the Tallaght man may have to deal with could be predictably aerial.

"I had to think hard about him because he was out for a long time with his first injury and then he was without a club," said Trapattoni.

"So, I needed to keep an eye on his condition and he impressed me recently and, for me, he is the same Richard from before his injury."

2) Use the width of the pitch

It has been an age since Ireland pitched up at Lansdowne Road for a pre-match training session, so perilous has been the Dublin 4 surface.

Ireland will have no excuses for letting the ground shift beneath their feet as the newly relaid surface is pitch perfect.

Deploying James McClean is a logical selection for a manager who has not always adhered to the form book.

The Wigan wide man was a constant threat in Stockholm against tonight's opposition and his physical presence will also be important against the muscular Swedes, one of several reasons why the candidacy of Simon Cox falters.

"In Stockholm, he was a big influence, he played well. He's technical, but also physically offers something extra against Sweden," said Trapattoni.

He also explained that, in deploying McClean, he will operate with just one naturally wide player, as Jonathan Walters on the other side will offer more defensive cover to his full-back, as well as muscling in narrower as the circumstances arise.

For his part, Keane is enthused about the quality that McClean could deliver and it is this key element of his game, arguably the most critical, upon which he will be judged. The use of the full-backs, now given more licence than ever before, was also drummed up as a positive theme yesterday.

3) Go for the jugular

If Ireland gain early profit, they must maximise their returns and not cash in their chips too early as is a most common theme under Trapattoni.

Ireland's late lapse against Austria in March may prompt some to pursue individual transgressors, but there was, yet again, a systemic failure which undermined a doughtily foraged 2-1 lead and the neatly-acquired draw in Stockholm four days earlier.

It wasn't just the fact that Ireland dropped deeper when trying to maintain their lead which inevitably led to their late collapse.

Ireland were aided in self-harming by Trapattoni's adhesion to a flawed and failed system – by trying to maintain his shape with tired players, compounded horribly by the mistake of withdrawing a striker who wasn't fatigued and leaving on one who was.

The changes that he did proscribe were utterly cosmetic, at best, and totally counter-productive, at worst.

Changing personnel is only one aspect of the manager's duty; changing the system to accommodate the circumstances of a game is just as important a requirement.

We await another opportunity to heed this pertinent lesson this evening. "We will go for the win, but not losing is crucial," insisted Keane.

4) Stop Ibrahimovic

Stemming the flow of the great, egotistical one was a relatively easy task for John O'Shea and his then central-defensive partner Ciaran Clark back in March as, quite simply, Ibrahimovic never deigned to switch on the tap.

The fitful Tobias Hysen offered little encouragement to his exalted partner, who spent much of the evening indulging in extravagant flicks to nobody in particular, as he retreated deeper and deeper into insignificance as the evening wore on.

By the time the lively Ola Toivonen arrived well into the final quarter, the tenor of the game had already been carved into stone. Tonight promises a different test and a more likely foil for Ibra's outstanding genius is the hard-working Elmander, who is bound to be a more productive partner.

"Like Messi, these great players have a feeling with the goal. It's impossible to lock up Messi. Ibra is Ibra. He can score, he can play deep, as a striker. But we can't concentrate just on him, there are other players," said Trapattoni

swedish heads will drop, though, if their talisman is contained.

5) Long must be fully focused

Shane Long's mental state remains a topic of discussion which Trapattoni was again forced to address.

"It is no problem," he said. "In this situation, in England it is habitual. Every month, the agents talk to clubs and players.

"But also, like James McCarthy, it is important that whatever happens, they have the opportunity to play.

"I have seen that Shane is happy and that will be important for us."

Long's goalscoring record does not inspire confidence and, although he was terribly unlucky with that instinctive back-heel against Austria, he has scored only one competitive goal for Ireland.

After a week where he was mentally tortured by the machinations of third parties, his commitment is unquestioned, but his confidence may still be an issue.

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