Thursday 22 February 2018

Time to pray for miracles

A fully fit squad won't be enough for Trap, we need to be fresher and sharper against better opponents, writes Daniel McDonnell

THE situation is simple. Giovanni Trapattoni needs one miracle to perform another.

Ireland's deeply religious manager believes that divine intervention is required for Richard Dunne to recover in time for next month's pivotal World Cup qualifier with Germany.

Dunne has not been named in the initial squad for the Dublin fixture and the subsequent trip to take on the Faroe Islands four days later because recovery from injury is highly unlikely, but the Tallaght man is on standby so that if his groin problem suddenly clears up, the FAI have given Aston Villa adequate notification for a call-up.

The vibes are poor, however, with the Ireland manager indicating yesterday that the Dubliner would need to prove his fitness in a club game beforehand.

"It's very, very difficult," sighed Trapattoni.

He could just as easily have been speaking about the challenge that the German game itself will present. Even with Dunne in the side, Ireland would require a huge display to take anything from the visit of the top seeds to these parts. Without him, the task is even more daunting.

The 73-year-old generally veers towards the half-full glass when making an injury prognosis. From the tone of his words at the Aviva Stadium, it is clear that he is planning on hosting Joachim Loew's hotpots without arguably his most important performer.

Certainly, he had no hesitation in speaking about Dunne in those terms when his international intentions were in doubt.

Trapattoni met Loew at this week's coaching conference in Warsaw, and they joked about their imminent meeting. "He knows he has a strong team," smiled the Irish boss. "But they had difficulty against Italy and he knows we can put him in difficulty."

When asked if respect for Ireland would have been dented by the humblings in Gdansk and Poznan, Trapattoni stressed that his own reputation should cancel out any complacency given that he spent time in Germany, albeit with mixed reviews.

"They are not arrogant," he said. "They believe in their strengths. But I'm sure they also have respect. They know me. My name is famous in Germany. And I think, also, they have respect for the mentality and attitude of the Irish players."

The question is if Loew's men will encounter a different proposition, or just the same wounded animal that was put down with little mercy by Croatia, Spain and Italy.

Trapattoni feels that he will enter battle on October 12 with a sharper group, hinting that fitness concerns over Shay Given and John O'Shea really did play havoc with the major tournament preparations. It further stresses the point that a half-fit Dunne will not be risked -- his club seem unlikely to tolerate it anyway.

However, it seems fanciful to put Ireland's Polish failings down to health issues. What is required is a fresher approach to superior, youthful opposition and, repeatedly, Trapattoni made reference to possibly entering battle with three central midfielders.

The return of Keith Andrews from suspension has posed a dilemma considering that James McCarthy finally appears to have gained trust.

"You say, change the system or not change the system," Trapattoni continued. "In Poland this week, Arsene Wenger said that the players give you the model of the system. So we can be flexible with two or three in midfield, for example.

"In the Euros, Spain played without a striker. In Ireland, it would be the end of the world if that happened.

"At the moment, we think about what is better to do. Maybe after one hour, we can switch. Or against a team with Germany's potential, why not think about three midfielders?"

But his reluctance to countenance dropping Robbie Keane -- given that a three-man central midfield is usually based on the central striker being a hold-up targetman -- lessens the chance of radical change being implemented.

Indeed, it is worth noting his reference to Italy's victory over the Germans in the semi-final of the Euros. Cesare Prandelli secured that victory with two strikers, a combination of the powerful Mario Balotelli and the dexterous Antonio Cassano. Ostensibly, he fielded a 4-4-2, although the midfield was more fluid and in a diamond shape.

Trapattoni can still point to the manner in which Balotelli's directness unsettled the German unit and it is hard to see him going with just Keane and leaving the physicality of Kevin Doyle and Jonathan Walters on the sidelines.

The latter can also operate in a wide role, where there is still a vacancy up for grabs in the wake of Damien Duff's retirement.

When Duff found the scoresheet again at the weekend, Trapattoni jokingly sent him a message asking him to come back.

The player has made his stance clear, yet it seems as though Trapattoni will only give up hope when the Fulham man hangs up his boots at all levels.

What that situation demonstrates is that he clearly feels that, in that department at least, he is less equipped than he was in the summer.

Should he persist along the lines of how he spoke on this flying visit, then the only other amendments could be Keiren Westwood for Shay Given and Darren O'Dea deputising for Dunne.

An alternative to a Sean St Ledger/O'Dea partnership would be bringing John O'Shea from right full-back into central defence, yet he was lukewarm when that prospect was mentioned.

Therefore, unless the manager goes for McCarthy, Ireland will face Euro 2012 quality opposition with a weaker team on paper than the selection that came up painfully short on the biggest stage.

Time to fetch those rosary beads.

Irish Independent

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