Thursday 14 December 2017

Euro 2012: Trap gives McGeady the green light for Croatia

DION FANNING in Montecatini

Aiden McGeady will start for Ireland in their opening European Championship game against Croatia, Giovanni Trapattoni indicated yesterday.

McGeady has held off the challenge of James McClean, who will be on the bench for Ireland's final warm-up game against Hungary in Budapest tomorrow night.

Barring injuries, the team that starts in Hungary will walk out against Croatia in Poznan next Sunday.

McClean has come close to breaking into the team, having impressed the manager since he joined up with the squad in Dublin, but McGeady, who probably secured his place with his second-half performance against Bosnia last weekend, and Damien Duff will start.

"James will be on the bench, with the others," Trapattoni said after yesterday's training.

Ireland will fly out of Italy today at the end of what Trapattoni called a "beautiful" week in their Tuscan base. Last night, Trapattoni and Marco Tardelli were honoured in a touching if chaotic ceremony in Montecatini.

They were interviewed on stage in front of an audience in the Piazza del Popolo. Things were interrupted at one point when a woman of a certain age stumbled behind the stage as she made her way down the stairs from the local church. She recovered her composure and posed for pictures with Trapattoni and Tardelli before rejoining the crowd.

Tardelli told the audience, "I'm very scared about Croatia". He then made the confident prediction that Ireland would draw with Croatia, before beating Italy and Spain to top the group. The woman who had stumbled behind the stage wasn't asked for her prediction.

Trapattoni explained to a local audience the work he had done with Ireland, building "from scratch" in an effort to find new players. "The players were sceptical to begin with because we came in and were more rigid than they were used to."

When it was pointed out to Ireland's manager that he had played Italy three times and never lost, he replied, "Please don't say it, it's better if you don't say it."

The pair were awarded the keys of the city before leaving the stage. At that point things became anarchic as a local mini marathon was also entering its final laps. As Trapattoni shook hands with well-wishers, runners jostled to get by. Trap, Tardelli and their security detail were finally bundled into a police car as runners swerved to avoid them.

Trap and Tardelli then drove along Viale Giuseppe Verdi to inspect their brass plaques entered on the Walk of Fame beside Pele and Marcello Lippi.

It was the end of a successful week. Trapattoni began it with worries about the fitness of several key players but all are expected to be named in the side which he will announce in Budapest this evening.

Shay Given skipped most of yesterday's training but Trapattoni said he had blisters on his feet and he is expected to play against Hungary. Every other player trained in an energetic session.

"One day without training is not a problem. Shay will play on Monday, sure," Trapattoni said of Given.

John O'Shea is also confident of starting. Trapattoni is "90 per cent" certain that the team tomorrow will be the team for Poznan. Injuries create the only doubt.

The stability of the Irish team is in contrast to the Italians, who lost again on Friday night, beaten 3-0 by Russia in Zurich.

With the Italian match-fixing scandal reaching as far as the national squad, Trapattoni is wary of people anticipating an implosion from his native country.

"Be sure when we meet Italy, Italy will be another team," he said yesterday.

The crisis reached such a point last week that Cesare Prandelli said he would accept an Italian withdrawal from the competition if it was "good for football". This, Trapattoni said, would be a "disaster".

Ireland's manager again stressed the damage done to the reputation of Italy around the world and said nobody has ever approached him to fix a game.

"No, they know me and my mentality. I worked in Milan and Turin, not in southern Italy. We also had a strong team, I had Milan, Inter. Others, maybe Napoli, and in the second league also. Most of the cases are in Serie B."

Trapattoni said he would not settle for a quarter-final exit if he was offered it now. He has stressed all week the strength of his team and tomorrow in Budapest, he will send out the team that he trusts. Last night in front of old friends, he told an old story. "The press are always looking for the new kids on the block but I have a duty to these players. After the tournament we can turn another page."

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