Saturday 24 February 2018

Ireland must now live up to expectations


Last Wednesday night, Lansdowne Road suggested that it can create an intimidating atmosphere. Now, Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni needs to find a team that gives it something to be intimidating about.

The chance to see Lionel Messi and others among the strong Argentina squad named for Wednesday's friendly will ensure another capacity at the newly developed stadium.

Argentina's summer has been eventful. Diego Maradona seemed certain to depart immediately following the defeat to Germany, but instead stuck around to talk about a new contract and then suggest betrayal when asked to lose some of his backroom team.

He may return some time in the future but the team will be coached in Dublin by his team-mate from 1986, Sergio Batista, even if Maradona is said to have selected the squad before his departure.

Even in pre-season, this will be a game to excite and offer some challenge to Ireland. Italy and France showed in South Africa that, despite the talk of Henry's handball, Ireland have nobody to blame but themselves for the failure to qualify for the World Cup.

The expectation is that the return to Lansdowne Road will make Ireland harder to beat. Croke Park, it is said, wasn't suited to football. The football Ireland has played over the past three years was rarely suited to any ground so things will need to improve.

Trapattoni believes his team has progressed and he said he had recommended Sean St Ledger, among others, to an Italian club who had been asking about Irish players. He is among a number the manager feels could play anywhere in Europe. Trapattoni mentioned Shay Given, Robbie Keane, John O'Shea and Kevin Doyle. The Irish squad has no surprises but Trapattoni did not rule out a player like Jamie O'Hara becoming involved this season.

"We won't forget about O'Hara," he said. "We must speak to him again. I have not spoken to him since the end of last season. We have told him we will speak to him again in the new season and wait right through until the summer."

Trapattoni felt silence would help matters, contrasting it with the Stephen Ireland problem.

"We don't want another situation like Stephen Ireland. Before, we said he was like a hedgehog and then you [the media] put a picture in [of him as a hedgehog]."

Ireland is not the only sensitive one around right now. The FAI had no option but to seek another sponsor when Eircom pulled out, but in February they launched a new kit for the 2012 qualifiers with the Eircom logo. Now that gear is dated and those who spent their money on it will have to buy again. In a recession, this will understandably cause anger.

But the FAI have their own money worries, which is why they will enjoy Wednesday's game and hope for a successful qualifying campaign. The fans will enjoy it too. Trapattoni believes organisation and discipline can bring any result but Wednesday allows a glimpse at native genius in the form of Messi.

"I like Picasso. He wasn't taught to paint. He was a natural. No one could coach that genius. You either have it or you don't. It was like my colleague, Rivera. He could do stuff I was not capable of. That cannot be coached. That is natural. You are born with it."

Rep of Ireland v Argentina

Wednesday, 7.45

Sunday Independent

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