Defiant Trap still beating the Rio drum
Italian urges players to 'do it for our jersey' as Pilkington gets nod
THE tension levels in Vienna tonight will be dictated from elsewhere. It could be game over for Ireland an hour before this World Cup qualifier kicks off.
By then, the result from Astana will have filtered through and if there is news of a Swedish victory then the sad fact is that this fixture, pencilled in as potentially decisive at the start of the campaign, a status it retained until last Friday, effectively becomes a pride-restoring exercise for the visitors.
Giovanni Trapattoni has to present an optimistic front, of course. Managers always have to stress the possibility of the best case scenario emerging. Should a Sweden win be followed by the Irish success he predicted on Saturday, he will play the 'never say never' card with regard to what would then be required; specifically a famous Irish triumph in Koln and a Swedish collapse in their home double header with the Austrians and the Germans.
We are entering the realms of the ridiculous there, however, as the first clause would represent quite a turnaround before you take permutations into consideration. The Ireland that stuttered to defeat at the hands of Zlatan in Lansdowne Road will have to undergo a serious transformation to collect three points here. Austria still enter this game as genuine play-off contenders, albeit furnished with the knowledge that a Swedish triumph would leave them with a steep task.
Certainly, a favour from Kazakhstan would add spice to this encounter for both teams but, failing that, it is clear that Trapattoni is keen to finish his final lap on a high. He has already accepted that his time is drawing to a close after this campaign, while stating that if he was John Delaney then he would be rushing to offer a contract extension.
But a performance to mirror the limp collapse on Friday would hardly emphasise that point. Around Austria, they have mixed memories of Trapattoni, with a title-winning first campaign at Red Bull Salzburg followed by an inglorious exit, which included a 7-0 home defeat on the way to the loss of their crown – an episode he was reminded of by a local during the pre-match press conference here.
He is sure there will be no waving of the white flag this time around.
"We had the world on our shoulders last week," he said. "We did not have the right reaction, we went down. But I think tomorrow, we will start with the same attitude, the same enthusiasm we had in the first minutes against Sweden. We have to do that for our jersey, for the shirt because it means a lot."
Trapattoni has made two changes to his team, one enforced, one tactical. As expected, Paul Green steps in for Glenn Whelan, a like-for-like switch which will see the Leeds man reunited with James McCarthy. They actually functioned well as a pair in the scoreless draw in Stockholm. Wes Hoolahan was not considered because he is only viewed as an attacking midfielder behind a solitary striker in tests against this level of opposition. Indeed, Stephen Quinn could be the first midfielder in line off the bench tonight.
"We need to have balance," said Trapattoni. "Hoolahan is a striker, or usually plays behind the striker. That's where he is for his club. But we have Robbie and Long there."
While one Norwich man misses out, another steps in, with Anthony Pilkington displacing James McClean. The 25-year-old is handed his first start because Trapattoni feels he is more able to switch from left to right flank during the game, arguing that McClean struggled in that regard on Friday.
"The right is not his optimum position," the manager said. "Pilkington is athletic, I like him, he can change from right to left. He is a different player to McClean, he is technically different. We are playing for the victory and I think Pilkington can give us a chance, he can be a beautiful surprise."
Any kind of unpredictability would be welcomed given that the Austrians spoke earlier in the day as though they were confident of Ireland's approach. They are expected to opt for Andreas Weimann up front rather than Marc Janko as they feel the pace of the Aston Villa man will cause headaches for Richard Dunne and John O'Shea.
However, with a capacity crowd expected to generate a feverish atmosphere, the first battle for the guests is to kill the euphoria and emerge with a positive approach that can be sustained. Trapattoni smiled when Keane was asked if there was a key to holding onto the lead; if the team knew the answer they would bottle it and sell it. Thus far in this group, they've bottled it in a different sense.
As misery enveloped Lansdowne Road in the minutes after the Swedish loss, the skipper said he would be worried if the young players didn't have the heart to fight back, the 'bite in the belly' as he put it yesterday. The trend of the Trapattoni regime within double headers is that the second match generally goes better if the first disappoints. Take Paris as a starting point, but there's Bari and Moscow too. The unbeaten record in away qualifiers still stands and better sides than Austria have struggled to break Trapattoni's men down with a crowd imploring them, so it is probably an over-reaction to make the hosts odds-on favourites to emerge with the spoils tonight.
"I think we can do as well as we have in the past," asserted the 74-year-old. "The enthusiasm is there, and there are three games left. It is football; anything can happen."
The Rio dream may be disappearing from sight, but this team has to go down fighting. It would help if Kazakhstan gave them one last shot at glory.
Verdict: Austria 2 Ireland 2