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Long wins promotion to Trapattoni's trusted few

L ast Tuesday night, Ireland showed they can entertain. They also lost and this may be the reason Giovanni Trapattoni will never ask them to entertain when it matters.

Trapattoni lives in a world of pre-ordained conclusions. There will inevitably come a time in the future when he will point to Uruguay's third goal as a reason why Ireland cannot play needlessly expansive football in midfield. He would ignore the fact that Ireland's recurring failure is an inability to defend set-pieces, something his style of football would seem to demand as a minimum.

The week was dominated by talk of systems but there is a problem if Ireland are to pursue any rigid system and that problem is Ireland's record goalscorer. Robbie Keane has been an outstanding international but no matter where he has played he has rarely fitted in to a system. This was demonstrated most starkly at Liverpool when Keane was noticeably absent for long periods in the many games he was given to prove himself.

Liverpool played a rigid system and that is not Keane's game. Keane is best reacting to a target man or merely reacting. He has never been the most disciplined of footballers even while enjoying his best campaign in the World Cup qualifiers and he retains his ability to score important goals.

Ireland have options now, even if Trapattoni still will trust the players he has trusted since he arrived. Shane Long's recent performances have shown him another way, but Trapattoni will pick Keane as long as he shows that the reactions he demonstrated against Macedonia remain.

Long is now another alternative. An exciting player with a change of pace which has always been something Irish forwards have lacked.

From their first months with the Irish squad, Trapattoni and particularly Marco Tardelli have always championed Long. There are more and more people in football taking notice.

"I think one year ago Long was too young," Trapattoni said on Wednesday. "Now he plays every game, and he achieves the experience. Now I think he can play anywhere. He can play in the Champions League, the problem is that at Arsenal and Manchester, they have all the big international players, even at Liverpool he would be in competition with very strong players."

Long will be in the Premier League no matter what next season and he may enhance his reputation at the beginning of June in Macedonia. This season he has developed, something he did consciously last summer.

"I was getting to that stage, there's a big difference between 22 and 23, a year makes a big difference and you need to start showing what you can do," he said after Tuesday's game. "I tried to get my life right, outside of football, eat the right things and not going out, and it's all benefited me in the long run."

If Kevin Doyle is fit, Long may again prove a useful reserve, another demonstration that Trapattoni has expanded the players he can trust in the squad.

From Macedonia Ireland will head to America, probably with another experimental squad, and a possible encounter with Thierry Henry who is likely to be playing with the New York Red Bulls on the same day. The story of Henry in Paris still holds the interest of the permanently resentful but Trapattoni expects the player to apologise if they meet.

He explained that he said sorry to the linesman he grabbed on the sideline last Saturday and he expects something similar from Henry.

"A player usually says 'I'm sorry' in this situation. I am sure in this situation, I am confident. We know when we hurt somebody or we are being hurt."

Trapattoni may have a vivid memory of all the events, whether it is Paris or Korea, when he has been denied justice, but he thinks of the future. He is very confident of qualification from the group and then he wants to take Ireland to Brazil. Even if there is the boost to the FAI's revenue from qualification, they would probably need Trapattoni to take another pay-cut, something he said he is prepared to do.

"I think when we began jobs with all the team, we slowly slowly change and it is possible to achieve World Cup qualification. I think we have slowly transformed this group. It is a very important moment -- a time when they are 23, 24 -- at this age is they start maturing and growing.

"What is important to continue and finish this job. It's not my area, it's up to the FAI to decide what they put value in, and if they're happy with this job. If they're happy with the job we're doing. For us it's important. We have no problem in discussing this because it's a social problem."

Sunday Indo Sport