Sport Soccer

Monday 19 March 2018

Trap continues his desperate search for someone to fear

The manager is determined that Ireland will avoid complacency, says Dion Fanning

The way to make Giovanni Trapattoni angry is to suggest Ireland are favourites to get past Estonia this week. Trapattoni knows they are favourites, which is why it makes him angry, and knows he must shake the idea from his players' consciousness. He knows too that Estonia are happy being the underdogs.

Ireland have had enough uncertainty in the build-up for Trapattoni to be able to warn against over-confidence.

He has accepted that Shane Long is unavailable but at this stage is only ruling the West Brom striker and John O'Shea out of the first leg.

Robbie Keane is back for LA Galaxy but lacked all sharpness in the two games he played. He will play in the Western Conference final tonight and then travel to Dublin. Trapattoni seemed to suggest that Keane might only play an hour in the first leg when he talked to journalists on Friday but that will depend on how Ireland are doing.

He says he will look for the away goal but he may have been looking for laughs with some other suggestions.

"We have to keep the mentality we had against Andorra and Armenia," he said, "and just go out and really attack them from the start. Have a real bite from the very start, impose our personality from the start."

There may be some truth in this as Ireland's problem is usually everything but the start and they are likely to be aggressive in their search for an early away goal.

Trapattoni has spoken to the Italian coach Cesare Prandelli about Estonia. Prandelli warned Trapattoni about the young forward Sergei Zenjov and Trapattoni spent some time talking about how dangerous he was too on Friday. There is only one problem -- Zenjov was suspended for the first leg and was subsequently not named in the squad after picking up an injury.

Trapattoni will need to find another bogey man. The Estonians are considering some big decisions of their own.

Joel Lindpere retired from international football two years ago to concentrate on his club career with the New York Red Bulls. Now he has some time on his hands and is said to be considering the offer from coach Tarmo Ruutli to return to the squad for the play-offs.

Ruutli's relaxed style of management has been credited with allowing this side to surpass all expectations. He has already been rewarded with a new contract

They are a side that has grown up together with nearly all the players aged between 26 and 30.

They are a close squad -- Alexandr Dmitrijev and Konstantin Vassiljev are married to sisters and Vassiljev had his wedding reception at A. Le Coq Arena where the game will take place on Friday.

Vassiljev is seen as their key player. He scored five goals in the group stages although he has expressed some concern that his team-mates "sometimes expect too much from me". He is one of a number of Estonian players who now plays abroad and he is also seen as an example of the integration of Russian and Estonian life.

Estonian football is viewed as a story of successful integration in a country where there is almost no mingling between Russians and Estonians. Russian is no longer widely taught in schools and the Russians who live in Estonia tend to leave as soon as they finish school or university.

But the football team has managed to mingle. Goalkeeper Sergei Pareiko grew up speaking Russian, married a Russian-speaking woman and played for many years in Russia but when he talks to Estonian journalists, he insists on speaking Estonian, even when he stumbles over the words and the Estonian journalists suggest it would be easier if they spoke in Russian.

The football team has united Russia and Estonia in a way no other sport has. Their results made people pay attention and they see no reason to stop now.

"For us, coming second was a big, big, accomplishment," Pareiko said last week. "We try to play the best game we can against Ireland. We know how they play. Of course, they are favourites. It is our first time in the play-off. Ireland have been in play-offs many times and have reached major tournaments. We played good all tournament. Our problems came against the teams that aren't so good. I think we can cause problems against them."

Pareiko has been a key figure in Estonia's astonishing group run. The Wisla Krakow goalkeeper encountered Damien Duff and Stephen Kelly at Fulham last Thursday when Duff gave a splendid demonstration of how his game has evolved. He is a more probing player now and less explosive but he scored a superb goal for Fulham and Kelly is looking forward to their partnership continuing in Tallinn on Friday.

Kelly confesses that his conversations with Duff have turned to the play-off quite often over the last few weeks. Soon it will be hard to think of anything else.

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