Sport Soccer

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Trap and Keane paylip service but facile Irish win the only outcome

Robbie Keane. Photo: Getty Images
Robbie Keane. Photo: Getty Images

Republic of Ireland v Andorra

(Aviva Stadium, Dublin, 7.45)

Andorra will have a Puyol, an Ayala, a Vieira and a Silva on duty in the Aviva Stadium this evening. The only trouble is that none of them are the real deal.

In fact, tonight's whole exercise is an exercise of fakery, the predictability of the result a denial of what professional sport is all about.

Ireland captain Robbie Keane evaded the exact wording of that awful cliché that states "there are no easy games" but he essentially endeavoured to strike a similar argument.

However, his stance is as weak as the opposition who will pitch up for what can only be loosely labelled the first "competitive" match in the refurbished Lansdowne Road.

Keane was merely guilty of displaying whatever slim vestiges remain of professional soccer's dignity.

Nine years ago, he was excused duty from the only previous meeting of the sides in Dublin -- he completed his permanent move to Leeds United the very same week -- when then student Ildefons Lima silenced the old ground with a stunning early header.

It was a dank, dreary evening then too, but the home crowd were only silenced for some 90 seconds before Kevin Kilbane restored parity to the unexpected contest, before Mark Kinsella and Gary Breen completed the ugly task.

It was a joyless affair, as it is when one side emerges content to wear bullet-proof vests and, with almost sado-masochistic relish, allows their opponents to strike from all angles at will.


A nation almost hidden on the border between France and Spain, it is a pity UEFA don't try to make them disappear completely. Their presence at this level of football is an obtrusion upon the very nature of competitive sport.

Like many of their philosophies, the governing body's persistence -- along with FIFA -- in patronising the weakest nations is high on principled political correctness and low on common sense; it betrays their attempts to promote the game.

When one team is not trying to engage in a sporting contest, then the very essence of the game is corrupted.

Sport punishes those who do not try. Yet Andorra's reward for their anti-football is continued acceptance at football's highest table.

Little wonder that the demise of international football continues to accelerate.

The validity of tonight's exercise -- the bookmakers' correct assumption that, at 1/50, Giovanni Trapattoni's men will collect all three points -- thus remains little more than an exercise in accountancy.

Trapattoni himself is not interested in the presentation of this fact; for him, one could honestly attest, a 1-0 result, after resisting the temptation to tinker with the line-up that struggled to last Friday's win in Yerevan, would prove more than satisfactory.

His mantra, also repeated by the players, is frankly an insult to the many intelligent souls who pay significant dollops of cash to watch their country's team.

"It's possible to win," intoned the wizened Italian at yesterday's pre-match press conference in Malahide. "It is important not to lose."

In guarding against complacency, Trapattoni is seeking to guarantee persistent concentration throughout the evening.

Aware that Irish teams reserve their best for the best, a liberated release from pre-match expectancy on what he likes to call a "goleador" (the Italian for goal rush) may ensure a more comprehensive victory than if his side were set a particular target.

One sincerely hopes that his caution does not remain an adhesive adjunct to this evening's encounter; Keane admits that goals are getting harder to come by in international football.

But having scored a hat-trick on his last competitive appearance in the old stadium, tonight could offer him a chance to hone in on his membership of one of football's most exclusive clubs, joining those who have scored 50 or more goals on international duty.

"Our aim is to go into every game to score as many goals as possible," insisted Keane. "It's not as easy as you think. International football is not as easy as it used to be six, seven years ago.

"Everyone expects us, the fans expect us, to score a few goals. As long as we win the game. If we get two, three, four goals or whatever (it doesn't matter). It's important when you get the chances that we do take them.

"The other night I had a couple that I should have done a bit better with. I'm sure in the future, there'll be games like that where I'm not going to score and there'll be games when I will score. But I never set targets because that would be disrespectful."

The Andorrans' overt physicality may offer the greatest risk to Ireland's Group B efforts when they resume in October; Glenn Whelan is a prime candidate to pick up the second yellow card that could rule him out of the Russians' visit to Dublin.

It made sense to rest the Stoke City man and Trapattoni will be hopeful that yet another concession to conservatism will not return to haunt him.

Hence his repeated assertion to the mentality of his team, his instruction that his side play a fast game, as well as a physical one, with the tempo at all times maintained alongside the same level of intensity.

It is a simple premise and a typically honest representation of a side who remain buoyed by the fact that in Armenia, however shoddy the effort at times, they did at least manage to procure an appropriate reward for their efforts in the shape of all three points.

By simply putting one foot in front of the other tonight, a similar harvest will accrue.

Ireland have never won a competitive match by more than one goal under Trapattoni's watch. That statistic will end tonight.

By the end of the evening, they should be sitting astride the Group B table, following Russia's earlier meeting with Slovakia. A performance to match that exalted status would be nice.

Live, RTE 2, Sky Sports 4, 7.45

Irish Independent

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