Sport Soccer

Saturday 20 January 2018

Securing victory all that matters for Trap

Ireland 2 Macedonia 1

Ireland captain Robbie Keane narrowly fails to get the
ball past Macedonia goalkeeper Edin Nuredinoski
although he managed to do so later in the first half.
Below: Ivan Trichkovski turns Richard Dunne to score
Ireland captain Robbie Keane narrowly fails to get the ball past Macedonia goalkeeper Edin Nuredinoski although he managed to do so later in the first half. Below: Ivan Trichkovski turns Richard Dunne to score for the visitors. Photo: DAVID MAHER,BRENDAN MORAN/SPORTSFILE

HALF full or half empty? A question that applied to both the Aviva Stadium and the state of the proverbial glass in post-match discussions on Saturday night.

Giovanni Trapattoni's position was clear. He stressed that he was happy with the result, the performance and his own team selection. Earlier events in Yerevan, where Russia could only manage a draw with Armenia, had added a spring to the step.

Debate continues to rage about his team's style of play, the lack of guile in the midfield department and his utilisation of the options available. But that's nothing new for the 72-year-old.

The fresh information for the Italian was the victory, and the fact that his competitive debutants Kevin Foley, Darren O'Dea and Keiren Westwood all justified their presence.

As such, the half-full side of the debate is that after an unprecedented run of setbacks leading into an important qualifier, which meant that several leading players were absent and others were making their return from injury, Ireland still came away with the three points. That's Trapattoni's bottom line right there.


Outside the camp, concerns exist about this team's ability to deliver when the business end of this group comes around in the autumn.

They burst out of the blocks on Saturday in the manner of a team who wanted to inflict enough pain on Macedonia to ensure that the Balkan guests would be gasping for the final whistle. In the end, it was the hosts that were desperately searching for the chequered flag. "It just didn't happen for us in the second half," conceded Damien Duff afterwards.

Trapattoni was more equivocal in his analysis as he reflected in Malahide the morning after, suggesting that his charges were guilty of naive errors that gave the visitors a way back into a game that was played in front of an official attendance of 33,200.

There were far less than that in their seats by the time Ireland had taken the lead, an early goal in this game but a belated strike in the context of Aiden McGeady's international career.

The 24-year-old has been around the scene for seven years without hitting the net, but good strength from Kevin Doyle created the opportunity for McGeady to take aim, just like his manager had implored him to beforehand. The Spartak Moscow winger found the target, with the unconvincing Macedonian netminder Edin Nuredinoski helping the ball to its intended destination.

In the aftermath of this game, Macedonian coach Mirsad Jonuz struggled to be polite about his goalkeeper's display. Jonuz is under a fair bit of pressure back home but at least, in this regard, he seemed to be in agreement with the travelling press corps.

Nuredinoski claimed the assist for Ireland's second, with Darron Gibson -- another encouraged by Trapattoni to shoot on sight -- pummelling a free-kick that was fumbled into the path of Robbie Keane, who forced the ball home from close range and celebrated like a man who was feeling the weight of world rising from his shoulders.

Ireland were well in control, then, despite the loss of Kevin Doyle to a medial ligament injury that will have ruined Mick McCarthy's weekend. The Wolves striker was sent for scans yesterday, with Trapattoni hopeful enough that he can be present for Skopje on June 4. If that's his comeback date, then his employers could be a Championship club at that juncture.

Shane Long was his replacement on Saturday and he did well in his own right without offering the same all-round service as Doyle. McGeady was constantly a menace and Duff gave the respected Macedonian left-full Goran Popov a torrid evening but, otherwise, the Irish offensive display lost its way from a position of authority.

A minute before the interval, the lead was halved when Kevin Kilbane made the mistake of showing Goran Pandev in on his favoured left side and his slide-rule pass found the menacing Ivan Trichkovski, who outfoxed the hesitant Dunne and dispatched smartly. It added a touch of anxiety to the second half.

"They kept the ball a little bit more but they didn't create many opportunities," said Trapattoni.

There were two nervous moments. Firstly, when Pandev miscued after Popov made his only notable foray of the evening. The second came past the midway point of the half when a punt over the head of Dunne found Trichkovski and Westwood emerged to make a vital stop.

Afterwards, the natives were relatively comfortable. Keith Fahey brought calmness to proceedings when he replaced Darron Gibson, while Ireland reverted to 4-5-1 for the dying minutes as the tiring Keane made way for James McCarthy, who was afforded a warmer reception than the rest of the group combined at full-time.

Macedonia had tried to apply pressure in the three minutes of time added on, but the Irish rearguard kept them away from the danger zone. O'Dea and Foley both made timely interceptions. "You asked me before about these players," said Trapattoni. "But I had trust in them.

"The team showed a certain maturity. We showed good personality, and we were calm."

That mood didn't exactly extend to the sideline, with both Trapattoni and assistant Marco Tardelli apoplectic with the officials at various junctures, most notably after Boban Grncharov's horror challenge on Shane Long that the Hungarian referee somehow only classified as a yellow-card offence.

The Irish boss was in danger of serious sanction after Doyle was struck down, placing his hands on the linesman as he remonstrated over the amount of time it was taking to allow Long come on in his place.

He was more relaxed about it yesterday, pointing out that he was only sent to the stands once in his career, while in charge of Inter Milan. Trapattoni explained that the officiating team understood his anger and believes they won't take action any further.

The yellow card picked up by Dunne will leave the Irish without an important figure in June, though, and the searing heat will add to the difficulty of round two. Jonuz acknowledged that Ireland were deserved winners on this occasion, goalkeeping excuses aside, but spoke like a man who expects an entirely different script next time around.

Trapattoni, on the other hand, is of the opinion that Ireland now have a real chance of emerging from the three-way tie at the top of the group to achieve the automatic qualification for next summer's Euro finals in Poland and Ukraine.

"We have more self confidence now," he said. "We have learned, but we must believe in ourselves, we play without fear.

"Look at McGeady. He was the best player on the pitch. I thought that going to Russia would be difficult, but he has improved. He can still do more. They are young players and they can do more with confidence.

"The problem is the doubt over injuries," continued Trapattoni, hinting at his major concern about the road ahead. "Even if we have good options now, it's always better to put the best players on the pitch."

Detractors might scoff at the last statement with personnel matters set to dominate discourse around tomorrow's friendly with Uruguay, just as it did in the build-up to Saturday.

The talking points may linger, but the three points belong to Ireland. For Trapattoni, that's where the analysis begins and ends.

Irish Independent

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