Steven Reid: 'You need to get stuck into these teams early. Roy Keane's display against Holland was a masterclass'
LUKA Modric was one of the first names on my list for the PFA Team of the Year. Ireland have to stop him from playing tomorrow or else we are going to be in serious trouble in the group.
He's developed into an all-round package, one of the best in the Premier League. When he came over to England first, he sat deep and got on the ball a lot. But I really think he's kicked on and developed the attacking side of his game. After his proposed move to Chelsea didn't go through last year, I'm sure he realises this tournament is a real opportunity to announce himself as one of the top players in the world. And, who knows where that could take him...
What makes him so good? Modric has a great ability to play through the lines as we call it, to find that space between midfield and defence and punish teams. It's imperative that Giovanni Trapattoni sets up his team to stop him.
Still, knowing how the manager operates, I'm not sure that the task of stopping Modric will be assigned to a specific player. Trapattoni won't be tinkering with the roles of Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews. He used me in that position and it was all about keeping shape and discipline, so chasing Modric around the place would take one of those boys out of there. So, I'm not surprised to hear that the manager is talking about pulling a striker back to help out. It must be a team effort. The wingers will have to tuck in as well, and stop Modric from influencing things. These teams have so much quality that it's easy to get outnumbered in there. And that's where the second striker comes in.
Robbie Keane can play deep, yet I'm not convinced that giving Robbie too much defensive work to do is necessarily the right thing. For the striker who has to chase back, it's a real drain on the energy levels. Robbie is still our biggest attacking threat. So, when you do get him on the ball, you want him full of energy and creativity.
But the problem is that the perfect position for him is probably playing off a physical striker, so it's a difficult balancing act. Kevin Doyle is a workhorse and he's capable of dropping back to help out. I know Simon Cox could do a job there too and Jon Walters has plenty of experience in midfield at Stoke. Shane Long is a serious option who can hurt teams and his pace can make a difference later in games.
A good start is crucial. I'm still of the opinion that you need to get stuck into these teams early. People always hark back to Roy Keane's physicality in the opening minutes against Holland at Lansdowne Road in 2001. I was in the squad that day and it was a masterclass. You just can't allow these top, top players to relax into the game. Get stuck in. Ruffle their feathers.
And that doesn't just apply to Modric.
Nikica Jelavic was arguably the form striker in the second half of the Premier League season and has probably already doubled in value. And don't forget Niko Kranjcar. On his day, he can be a nightmare to play against. Standing off him is dangerous because he's a terrific striker of the ball and won't be afraid to have a pop.
I know that, within the Ireland set-up, the option is there to go to the stats man and get a DVD made up of the opposition player who'll be in your radar. But nothing compares to the experience of taking them on and our familiarity with Modric should help.
I'm confident that the lads will do well. At this stage, they'll just be mad to get out there. I can sense that from what's been said in the media. They've had three weeks of talking to each other and talking about the games, and they'll just want to get on with business.
In Korea and Japan, we had quite a significant distraction with Roy's situation, which obviously dominated the build-up and maybe even took away the pressure a bit. There was no expectation. Mick sat us down before the first game with Cameroon and showed us a montage of good luck messages from fans and celebrities. U2's message was the highlight. And that really did give us a lift. I'm not just saying it, but a reminder of what it means to the country is welcome when you're so far away and just seeing each other on the training ground and around the hotel every day. I hope they do something similar for the lads this time around.
Trap doesn't say much on match day. The work will have been done during the week. In team meetings, he can be animated, and in the team talks, too, but mostly he'll just be reminding everyone of what he's been saying in the preparations. There will be times during this tournament where he'll need to change his system and go for it a little bit. But the strengths of his team are in our favour for this game. We need to be a well-organised unit, difficult to play against and difficult to break down, because losing this match simply isn't an option.
A draw will do for me.