Monday 23 October 2017

Trap's values torn apart by Spanish magic

James Lawton

James Lawton

It was all very well Giovanni Trapattoni telling his men that football is not all about creative players but the theory comes under quite a bit of pressure when the best team in the world, reigning world and European champions, have three of them who all look precisely the same, have the same inordinate levels of skill and perception and all answer to the name of Andres Iniesta.

There is also the problems presented by some of their team-mates, including Xavi and David Silva, and when Fernando Torres, of all people, lashes in a goal after just four minutes, one that reminded you of the time when he was maybe the most sublimely ferocious striker in the game, Old Trap has no more compelling argument than that damage control had become not so much an ambition as one of the last dreams of a feisty veteran.

At 1-0 down at half-time, he did tweak to the extent of replacing Simon Cox with Jon Walters but the Spaniards, and even the most intense observer, had reasons not to notice.

One of them was an effusion of skill remarkable even by the standards of La Roja and then within four minutes of the re-start of a game which might still provoke protests from the League Against Cruel Sports David Silva scored another goal of absurd accomplishment.

Another absurdity, when you thought about it in those rare moments when the Spanish did not seem intent on inducing one form of hypnosis or another, was the number of times that Trapattoni has been chastised for a certain lack of boldness in selection.

What, he will no doubt be asked still again, was he doing keeping the bold young James McClean out of the starting action? Protecting him from a nervous breakdown was maybe one of the more plausible explanations, you had to suspect.

Aiden McGeady or McClean, whatever their virtues and certainly the potential of the young Sunderland discovery, were hardly going to effect that essential matter of limiting the slaughter.

To be fair to McClean, when he did come on deep into the second half soon after Torres had streamed through to complete his plunder with a second goal, he did it with the demeanour of a young man intent on the most serious business.

Ireland, it has to be said, performed with plenty of that quality which the old man of football had clearly deemed the most viable asset in his pursuit of a return to major tournament football.

They made forays, they sought to rescue something from their night on the spit and this remained true after Cesc Fabregas replaced Torres and promptly smashed home a fourth goal. Sean St Ledger followed Robbie Keane and Glenn Whelan into the book after a clattering tackle on Silva and here, now of course, was the evidence of an onset of true desperation.

It had been present, of course, from the moment Iniesta unfurled that first utterly dissecting pass which opened up the way for the opening strike of Torres.

It grew, quite relentlessly, seamlessly, as Iniesta split himself into those various parts and covered the field with a quite astonishing, even by his standards, commitment to the idea that the passage to the quarter-finals and the sharpening of the idea that this is indeed a team that hit the unprecedented level of three major titles.

horribly

Ireland could only console themselves that in a tournament which went horribly wrong when they came to the group of death with the defensive breakdowns against Croatia that amounted pretty much to suicide, they had brushed against some football of unequivocal greatness.

Can Spain get to the mountain top yet again?

Certainly they have the appetite and if Torres can reproduce the sharpness and absolute inevitability of his two goals last night there has to the conclusion that it has become a matter to be settled between the reigning champions and their most formidable challengers, the young and vibrant Germany.

For Trapattoni there was, plainly, immense sadness that the most practical of his values and once more been torn apart. He stood in the dugout in the fashion of a man who could not argue with his and his team's fate.

His achievement with Ireland has been to get them once again to the big party and of course he was never going able to vet any of the guests. The one Ireland encountered last night offered only a brutal gift. It was the one of reality, and no amount of experience can do much to change that.

Irish Independent

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