Saturday 18 November 2017

Dutch Master

Advocaat confident Irish system to throw up no surprises for Russians

in moscow

Dick Advocaat is briefly transported back 17 years to a sweltering hot day in Orlando.

Would the current Russia manager recall any favourable omens from that last-16 game, when Packie Bonner erred so grievously against his Dutch side that he wept inconsolably at half-time?

"Bonner is not in the goal... that helps a little bit!" he says, thinly concealing the smirk creasing his jowled 63-year-old features. "It was a great time, after the game the friendship was great. There was a big party afterwards so in that way let the best team win."

If this is a man under pressure, a Dutch nod to characteristic nonchalance betrays the fact. While Giovanni Trapattoni went on the defensive about his team being on the defensive, Advocaat -- whose annual salary dwarfs the Italian's at a rumoured €5m a year -- nonchalantly presses all the right feel-good buttons.

For him, the issue is simple. Russia have their system, Ireland have theirs. Russia's triumphed with relative ease when the sides met in Dublin last October.


While the Italian breezily expressed indifference to Russia's style of play, before, during and after the Dublin demolition, the Dutchman offers an unconcerned shrug.

"You cannot change a system in two days," he says. "It is the same for us."

Handed the Irish team sheet, he barely demurs.

"We know that O'Dea would play in the centre because that was in the Irish newspapers. And then we knew that O'Shea was not coming so Stephen Kelly plays there. And if he (Trapattoni) always plays the system, it's not too difficult because one player steps out and another one comes straight in."

Ireland's predictability, Advocaat says, is at once their greatest strength and their greatest weakness. It offers sustained durability with limited productive output. Patience in his team's philosophy at the Luzhniki Stadium will be key.

"It will be a crucial match for both of us. In that way, hopefully we can continue like we have been doing result-wise. But we also know in principle Ireland have to win to stay in the group. So it will be a very interesting game to see how they like to play.

"It's not necessarily easier than the Macedonia match (in which his side struggled to a 1-0 win last Friday) in the way of playing but easier in the way that we will know the opponent. We cannot get surprised by the opponent.

"They are a difficult team. It doesn't matter where they play, Hong Kong or wherever, they play this system. We can't get surprised one way or another. But they are definitely a difficult team.

"They may have players missing but we know the way they play so it doesn't matter who are playing. They can bring an U-21 team and they will play the same.

"The commitment is 100pc, always difficult to play against. We need to play our own system, that worked before and hopefully it can again."

Memories of Dublin last year are a little more relevant than the 1994 World Cup. Ireland's late barrage, to his mind, can be distilled into the dubious penalty award when Yuri Zhirkhov brushed against Robbie Keane with 18 minutes left.

"In the 60 minutes, we totally controlled that game. The referee gave a present to Ireland like he did to the Czechs last Saturday against Scotland and that changed the game," he says.

"Those things can happen because this team tries, that is their temperament. You cannot underestimate them at all. They are playing at a high level in England and that says enough."

Some local journalists are suggesting that Aiden McGeady may get cheered rather than jeered by the home support because of his Spartak Moscow allegiance; albeit the fact that the Russian central defence also hail from Spartak indicates more than a smell of red herring.

And there are potential complications with Roman Pavlyuchenko, the fitful Spurs striker, whose relationship with the Dutchman has never been less than prickly; albeit the same could be said for many in football who interact with the striker.

"True, players who are not playing are not happy with the coach," says Advocaat. "The team performance is what matters, not the individual. That goes for everybody, not just for Pavlyuchenko."

At least that is one subject upon which Advocaat shares agreement with Trapattoni. And, perhaps, a modicum of pressure.

"In our jobs," he smiles, "there is always pressure. I like that. We all know the importance of the game. Hopefully, we can use our fans more than normal. Away we did that well, scoring-wise and result-wise."

If he manages that, the pressure will be heaped upon his counterpart like never before.

Irish Independent

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