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Stage set for Trap's big debut

SCANNING the room of predominantly smiling faces in front of him, Giovanni Trapattoni delivered a pertinent lesson in pragmatism ahead of his Irish managerial bow at Croke Park later this evening.

"Right now", he said, "Everyone seems to be happy. But we'll see in a few months."

Nobody could disagree. As pre-match press conferences of recent times go, it was good-natured stuff at the Grand Hotel in Malahide yesterday but it's the honeymoon era of his tenure as the man himself acknowledged.

The first judgments will be handed out this evening, depending on the quality of the performance against Serbia, even though a raft of experienced players are missing; certainly it will be a greatly different starting 11 that will go into battle when it really matters in Tbilisi and Podgorica in September.

Despite that, Trapattoni is well enough versed in the demands of the modern game to understand that denouements are frequent in his profession.

"Today, with media, with TV, with supporters, there isn't friendly matches," he says. "The result is a matter of pride, for Ireland and for Serbia. Of course the qualifying games are important, but for 60, 70,000 people, the result is important.

"And a good result is also important for our faith and trust in ourselves."

To achieve that, Trapattoni has put his confidence in some players who didn't get a look in during the Staunton era. While Glenn Whelan and Damien Delaney were happily ploughing along in the Championship during that time, they escaped the radar of the Louthman's regime.

Having sufficiently impressed Marco Tardelli and Liam Brady to make the initial cut for Portugal, their attitude and performances there have convinced Trapattoni to give them their first caps this evening, although in the case of Delaney, John O'Shea's post-Champions League celebrations have opened the door.

With a knowing look, Trapattoni suggested the all-night party enjoyed by Manchester United after their Moscow exploits was not ideal preparation for a game three days later. O'Shea will be on the bench, and might see action at some stage, although Aiden McGeady misses out as he recovers from his exertions in helping Celtic win the SPL on Thursday. He's 50-50 to make next Thursday's Colombia game.

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In their absence, it's up to less established stars like Delaney and Whelan to cement their place in the international picture for the more significant tasks ahead.

Knock

Delaney's QPR team-mate Martin Rowlands was scheduled to start as well, only for a knock on his ankle in Thursday's training session, which means Liam Miller steps in to partner Whelan.

At the back, Paul McShane gets the nod over Alex Bruce as he renews centre-half relations with Richard Dunne while, as expected, Dean Kiely is chosen in goal.

So a bit of tinkering in that regard where a degree of unfamiliarity might be excused, but in the forward department Trapattoni will be looking for cohesion and an acceptance of his doctrine.

In Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle he has what is likely to be his first-choice striking pair, while Damien Duff and Stephen Hunt start on the flanks with interchange likely.

They will take on a role of responsibility although, coyly, Trapattoni responded to one question about what will be asked of his attacking players by saying that you will simply have to wait and see.

"It can be 4-4-2, it can be 4-3-3, it can be 4-4-1-1, we'll see. Sometimes it is only about changing a little bit of the running and the movement.

"Yesterday, we saw Duff and Hunt there because the wingers for me are very important, the movement they make is important. It's very important they understand immediately what I want from them."

"A lot of the squad players here use different systems at club level, so I've worked hard at teaching them the way I want them to play.

"After a few days here, I've been starting to put that into practice. I've started to get the message across, but I need them to believe in what they are going to do."

Contrary to what some might have anticipated when Trapattoni was appointed, there won't be a patient Italian style of play. Instead, the 69-year-old wants to capitalise on some of his players' attributes, so the tempo will be fast and there will be pressing in all areas, something his captain Robbie Keane appreciates.

"I remember the game against Brazil -- we tipped off and I don't think we had a touch of the ball for 10 minutes," said Keane.

"It was gone because we were sitting off too much.

"With the players we have, we need to press people. So I expected things to stay the Irish way, we're at our best when we do that, when we put teams under pressure."

Put differently, Trapattoni is aiming to hone that passion into something more technical. A method to the madness, you could say. It is here he is looking to his experienced players, like Keane, to add that subtlety.

"Older players", mused the manager, "they know what to do. If things are going fast then sometimes they know they need to slow it, in that moment they know what to do when maybe some young players keep going.

Positive

"All the players are learning. We all learn a bit from here, from there, from everywhere. I know what in the last 40 years I have seen. The older players have to be positive, to help the young."

After reams of newsprint and soundbites, it will be fascinating to see what develops in front of a crowd which the FAI hope will exceed 65,000.

Trap doesn't want to make predictions, given how football can sting you when you least expect it, recalling his recent 7-0 defeat in charge of Red Bull Salzburg at the hands of eventual title winners Rapid Vienna.

"I am happy with how much progress has been made, but there is still a lot of room for improvement", he stresses. Tonight, we'll get a rough idea how vast that space remains.


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