Friday 24 November 2017

O'Neill insists Ireland will set out to attack Italy's weaknesses

Giuseppe Rossi will feature in Italy's frontline tonight against Ireland. Photo: Claudio Villa/Getty Images
Giuseppe Rossi will feature in Italy's frontline tonight against Ireland. Photo: Claudio Villa/Getty Images
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

In the midst of the all the Roy Keane fuss, it's proved particularly easy to forget there's actually a game on this evening.

At another time, a friendly with Italy in Craven Cottage would be quite an interesting proposition but it's inevitable that proceedings will be overshadowed by the developing situation with the assistant manager. The cameras will again be following his movements.

Italy are preparing for a World Cup and, for the Azzurri, this is an important game as boss Cesare Prandelli looks to narrow down his 30-man squad to a final panel of 23 before heading for Brazil next week.

In that regard, the selection of Fiorentina striker Giuseppe Rossi and PSG midfielder Marco Verratti has provoked the most discussion in Italy as they are believed to be on the cut line. "I'm sure Giuseppe will have a great match," said Prandelli of the injury-plagued attacker.

"It will be like a World Cup opener for him. Ireland is a physical squad, and that's good for us."

For O'Neill, changes from the Turkey reverse on Sunday are enforced by personnel issues, but it's likely he would have shuffled the pack anyway. Stoke trio Glenn Whelan, Marc Wilson and Jon Walters – the latter was a goalscoring sub – are unavailable.

Goalkeeper Rob Elliot is absent as he is getting married. Anthony Stokes has left the camp with a calf problem, a disappointment for the Celtic player as he would have gained some minutes on the pitch to finish a week that included the stress of a court appearance.


"I think from my conversations, he's been pretty upbeat but that's all I've ever known about Anthony," said O'Neill when asked about the Dubliner's mental state.

With John O'Shea and Seamus Coleman given permission to skip the US leg of the tour, they will feature here, while David Forde takes over between the sticks.

The identity of O'Shea's centre-half partner is one decision for O'Neill. Damien Delaney was given an audition at the Aviva but there are a range of other options seeking game time, with Ciaran Clark, Alex Pearce, Richard Keogh and Shane Duffy all in the mix.

Meanwhile, the loss of Whelan and Wilson guarantees a brand new central midfield. Paul Green, who is on the lookout for a new employer, should get the chance to put himself in the shop window due to the lack of a defensively minded alternative. David Meyler should also figure from the outset.

O'Neill suggested after the Turkish encounter that Wes Hoolahan would definitely be his man for home matches, yet didn't make the same statement about overseas encounters.

He does have a range of striking options so could go with two up front. However, Italy have strong options in the middle of the park in the form of Motta, Marchisio, Montolivo with the crafty Verratti operating ahead so the Derryman might deploy a third man in there with a view to avoiding a numerical imbalance. It's just a matter of whether Hoolahan or Hull's Stephen Quinn get the nod to fulfil that role.

"The idea for us in the next couple of games is to go and create chances," stressed O'Neill, countering the suggestion this 90 minutes could be primarily a rearguard effort. "There's no reason why we shouldn't create them.

"Putting the ball in the net has been a problem here for a considerable length of time.

"It's a great game at any stage of the season but now with Italy preparing for the World Cup, it's a great opportunity to play against some really top-class players," he continued.

"They're a top-quality tournament team. Just in recent years the Italian league itself might have suffered somewhat from the emergence of the Spanish league and I suppose the money in the Premier League. It suffers a little bit in comparison and contrast. But Italy is still a brilliant side. When it comes to tournaments, they're always there."

English eyes will be monitoring this affair closely considering that the Italians are the first opponents for Roy Hodgson's charges in the heat of Manaus on June 14. The challenge for Irish minds is to be as equally concentrated.

Irish Independent

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