Draw would justify Trap's methods -- at least for now
Manager unlikely to risk defeat for reward of top seeding for play-offs with victory, writes Dion Fanning
When Ireland walked off the pitch in Yerevan last September, the players looked at each other in the dressing room and acknowledged that they had faced a serious challenge.
"I don't think we got the credit we deserved for that result," Shay Given said late on Friday night as he prepared for another crucial week in an international career that has had plenty.
Too many of those nights have ended in disappointment. Ireland need only a draw on Tuesday to move on to another play-off, the minimum requirement from a group which, at the very least, Ireland should have been challenging to win going into the final round of matches.
Armenia began the campaign and now they will hope to end it. A win on Tuesday would probably ensure that Giovanni Trapattoni's side were seeded in the play-offs. There may be good reason for showing some adventure, but there is always Trapattoni's nature arguing against. He has a prize for winning which would help tremendously towards qualification but he is unlikely to risk losing it all.
Yesterday he offered characteristically mixed messages about a play-off. He seemed to stress more importance on playing at home second, suggesting that Ireland might prefer playing a strong team but then saying it would be better if Ireland were seeded. Others would see no contest, thinking that it would always be better to create the opportunity of playing, say, Estonia rather than Portugal. It probably won't alter Trapattoni's approach.
"You'll have to ask the manager, I can't answer, what he's going to answer. It's a tricky one," Given responded when journalists tried to speculate about Trapattoni's approach to Tuesday's game. Given had been clear. Ireland needed to play to win, to seek out the weaknesses in an Armenian side which have an attacking threat and more pace than Ireland can handle.
"Do we sit and try to get a draw or do we get at them? Personally I hope we get at them because we have some very good players and if we can get the Aviva rocking with the night-time atmosphere I'm sure the Armenians will know they're in for a massive game. We really need the fans right behind us."
Trapattoni's message was the same, even if the performance may not indicate a win-at-all-costs mentality.
"I already said we don't think about the draw," Trapattoni said. "Absolutely not. It would be a great mistake. We must play with 100 per cent mentality, 100 per cent attitude and watch out for the silly mistake. They are a strong team, they score more goals than us and we must pay attention."
Vladan Minasyan's side need to win to reach a play-off and Ireland will hope that the enormity of this prospect is too much for them on Tuesday night.
Ireland will feel the pressure too. Ireland's approach will be the same. They'll risk nothing and the draw will be the most likely outcome. Trapattoni will say Ireland are going for the win, but he always says that so there is no need to expect anything different in their play.
Nobody will have been encouraged by anything they saw on Friday night in Andorra la Vella. Ireland will feel that, as Robbie Keane said before the game, all they could do in Andorra was "get the points and get out", but again there was a consistency to Ireland's performance that causes concern. They will need to be better on Tuesday.
Armenia face a long journey to Dublin, but, thanks to strange planning, Ireland's return from Andorra was almost as arduous and at a crazier time. Ireland left the Estadi Comunal shortly after midnight, drove for three hours to Barcelona, then sat on the plane for close to an hour as ground staff tried to fill the hold and then the cabin with all the team's kit. In the end, following the intervention of the co-pilot, and as the players became more puzzled about the delay, three crates of FAI kit were left on the runway.
Ireland were due to arrive in Dublin at 5.30am yesterday morning which didn't make much sense. Instead they landed closer to 7, losing a night's sleep on a plane which had no first class seating and spending seven and a half hours travelling through the night.
Trapattoni had never adequately explained his decision not to spend Friday night in Barcelona and travel back yesterday morning. Before the chaos at the airport and on the runway, Given had described the travel plans, if they can be called plans, as something Ireland had to overcome. Ultimately, they were a lot worse than that.
"The only problem now is the long journey back and travelling through the night but that's what we have to deal with. We'll just make sure we are well rested now for Tuesday," Given said before Ireland began to try to find their way home on Friday.
Trapattoni conceded yesterday that Ireland could have stayed in Barcelona on Friday night but said the problem was that they couldn't fly into Andorra. He refused to be drawn on whether effectively missing a night's sleep will affect the players on Tuesday night.
Preparation of this kind is also a little detail. He will now turn to deal with the problems he can solve, like finding a replacement for Stephen Ward, who picked up a foolish booking in Andorra.
John O'Shea, who could move to left back, suggested that Kevin Kilbane would be getting a call, but Trapattoni will stick with the squad he has, although Jonathan Walters has flown into Dublin to offer another attacking possibility.
"I feel we'll play with a bit more confidence on Tuesday," O'Shea said. "Andorra was just about getting out of here without slipping up -- there was a bit of edginess about us. I think you'll see a lot better from us against Armenia and, hopefully, in the play-off matches."
If there is to be a play-off, Ireland will need more from key players and they will need their captain to be fit. Keane had a scan last night on a troublesome abductor muscle and the manager conceded last night that he was a strong doubt for Tuesday's game.
Stephen Kelly is a more likely alternative to Ward. Trapattoni likes his pace which will be especially useful against a side like Armenia.
Kelly has played his part in this campaign and he is one of the most articulate players when it comes to expressing how the squad has developed.
"We are not going to give second place up lightly, no chance. We have worked too hard throughout this whole campaign. It's been a tough one and people maybe wrote us off a little bit but we have shown a rich vein of form in recent months. The confidence has grown, the camaraderie has been amazing and it's such a tight-knit group now. As a team we are really in it together and we know what's at stake and everybody is really gunning to get to a major championship."
The night in Paris was, Kelly says, "heart-wrenching", and Ireland will now have to endure more play-off tension if they are to make a major championships.
"Most of us were there to experience that and we don't want something like that to happen again. So we are really going to do everything in our power to make sure it doesn't happen."
Ireland already had the chance to make sure it didn't happen again and, as in the last campaign, they are running out of opportunities not to accumulate regret.
Armenia have impressed everyone who has played them but Trapattoni felt Ireland's experience, and his own, can guarantee the right result on Tuesday.
Thirteen months on from the 1-0 win in Yerevan and Armenia's challenge is widely recognised. Given highlighted Yura Movsisyan as a player who had caused problems on that night.
Richard Dunne's return from suspension will strengthen Ireland. Trapattoni believed yesterday that Henrik Mkhitaryan, Armenia's danger player, had picked up a booking in Friday's 4-1 victory over Macedonia, but he then conceded he might be mistaken.
"If he's suspended it's ok, if he's not it's ok, he's not Messi or Maradona."
Lesser players than Messi have cause Ireland problems and Trapattoni felt compelled at half-time in Andorra to issue a warning to the Irish team.
"I told the players yesterday that I was a little bit angry at half-time. I thought we underestimated the opponent. We play like training, I say never underestimate the opponent."
He says Armenia have an attitude of "Go, Go, Go." Some might contrast it with an Irish attitude of wait, wait, wait but Trapattoni says the right factors are in place.
"I had many teams with this mentality. Why I win the league? Because I build players with mentality because there isn't friendly games. In international football, there are never friendly games. We must show them we are superior and then we can win."
He says he wants to win but it might be hard to discern this on Tuesday night. Ireland need only avoid defeat and Trapattoni's way has always been not to lose. For him, that is the same as victory if it ensures survival. A draw will justify his methods. At least for now.
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