Sport Soccer

Saturday 24 February 2018

Steven Reid: Alaba gives McCarthy a lesson

Irish star will need to learn from experience for next campaign

David Alaba of Austria celebrates after scoring the winning goal last night
David Alaba of Austria celebrates after scoring the winning goal last night
Steven Reid

Steven Reid

SWEDEN's win in Kazakhstan rendered qualification almost impossible even before kick-off but I don't think there should be any rush to get Giovanni Trapattoni out. It wouldn't be fair on his replacement.

The reality is that next month's games against Germany and the Kazakhs are now dead rubbers and it would be a difficult task for any new manager to try and come in to a deflated atmosphere and try and lift players who may be contemplating their futures.

It is clear that the time has come for change, but I see no merit in rushing in a new man for the match against Germany in Cologne, especially given the bookings picked up by Richard Dunne and John O'Shea last night that rule them out of that game.

Either the FAI should let the Italian finish the job and then give his replacement a clean slate or install a caretaker until the end of qualification.

Strangely enough, Zlatan Ibrahimovic's goal in Astana made life easier for Ireland as it meant Austria had to push on for the win. Nothing less would do them. It opened up opportunities on the counter and Ireland, once again, started well.

But, as the game went on, the visitors retreated into their shell and invited opponents on to them. David Alaba's goal was inevitable.

The men in black were well-organised once again away from home, a trait that has gone throughout Trapattoni's reign, but that is a minimum requirement. A baseline. That's the easy part for an international coach. When he took over at West Brom, Roy Hodgson made immediate changes to the way we had been playing and made us more organised. Going away from home and keeping it tight became a formality.

Ireland needed a win last night to have any hope and to get the three points they had to to offer more than that, particularly when the form in Dublin is so poor. Most of the time when we play at home, we are set up in the same way we are away so the benefit gained on the road is lost.

Anthony Pilkington made an impact on his first start, while Seamus Coleman was far more involved than he was against the Swedes.

But, like on Friday night when Ibrahimovic was head and shoulders above the rest, we had a class act on show and, unfortunately, he wasn't in an Ireland jersey.

For the second time in this campaign, it was Alaba who did the damage for Austria, popping up at the right time, in the right place.

Alaba plays with the best club side in Europe but he mostly operates at left back. Last night he was Austria's driving force in midfield.

Opposite him was James McCarthy whose £13m price tag should put him in the same bracket as the 21-year-old Austrian. Bayern wouldn't want to sell him, but I wouldn't imagine his price tag would be a million miles from what Everton paid for the Glaswegian.

Maybe it is the legacy of having a player like Roy Keane patrol the middle for so long, perhaps it is Trapattoni's system that doesn't allow the midfielders to get forward but McCarthy hasn't been able to take control of either game in this window. Alaba's driving display shows that age is not an excuse, you have to step up.

Alongside him Paul Green gave a good account of himself, while David Forde acquitted himself well when called upon. The goal, when it came, gave him no chance. Group C was always going to come down to these four days and it couldn't have gone worse. For 30 minutes against the Swedes things were positive, but that seems a long time ago now.

The players' effort cannot be questioned. The difference between being in contention and not has been the quality. We have come up against two standout players in Ibrahimovic and Alaba and couldn't match them.

Going to Cologne was never going to be easy, but taking on the Germans on their own patch without two senior, experienced players is a daunting task. If Alaba was the star of the show last night, imagine what the cream of Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and the rest of the Bundesliga can do.

It has been a campaign to forget. The hangover from the Euros lasted well into the campaign and the consensus was that Trapattoni should have gone after the 6-1 defeat to Germany. Now it looks like the end is finally nigh, but it is hard to get excited about the future.

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