Sunday 18 February 2018

Trapattoni gets plenty of food for thought ahead of Macedonia showdown

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

A victory for Ireland, but no time to bask in the glory. Saturday is what really matters.

Understandably, Giovanni Trapattoni didn't get too involved in the Carling Nations Cup celebrations; the real prize is the confidence it will give his troops with a view to this week's trip to Macedonia, a country which holds bad memories for Ireland.

After spending part of last week wondering where some of his players were, Trapattoni now has to figure out how to utilise those who are available for the Euro 2012 qualifier. Some of the fringe players from this week have taken their chance. "We do have more players coming back, but we have good options," said Trapattoni.

The events of the past seven days have given Trapattoni some tough decisions to make for a game which Ireland realistically have to win to retain the hope they can qualify automatically.

Several key issues are outstanding.

This was Darren O'Dea's audition for Macedonia. The Celtic man has been out of action for a month with an ankle problem and had been doing some fitness training on his own earlier this week.

Trapattoni favours the 24-year-old for Skopje because of his physicality. He looked ring-rusty at times in the first half, and there were nervous looks from the bench when he down after the resumption, but he was back on his feet and stayed on for 65 minutes.

"We didn't want to take any risks," said Trapattoni.

"But I am sure he will play on Saturday."

Sean St Ledger, who is trying his best to recover from a knee problem, was actually named on the bench but wasn't involved.

The odds are still against him. John O'Shea wasn't part of the Manchester United squad on Saturday, but contacted Trapattoni to say he will travel to the Balkan peninsula.

Meanwhile, Paul McShane's Messi-like dribble for the goal was part of a good display from the Hull man.

He might have skipped ahead of Kevin Foley at right-back although a possibility is that with uncertainty in the middle, Ireland could start as they finished last night, with McShane in the centre and Foley on the right.

Stephen Ward has acquitted himself well, yet with so many members of Trapattoni's favoured XI missing, Kevin Kilbane will return at left-back after suffering playoff disappointment with Huddersfield yesterday.

With Damien Duff out of Macedonia, and Aiden McGeady a certain starter provided he has overcome his weekend commitments in Russia, there is one place up for grabs.

Over the last week, Trapattoni has tried four potential replacements with Seamus Coleman and Keith Treacy starting against Northern Ireland, and the more experienced Stephen Hunt and Liam Lawrence in place last evening.

Who will get the nod? Well, McGeady can operate on either flank but seems to be more comfortable on the right these days. Trapattoni may opt for a player who favours the left side, which would augur well for Hunt.

In fact, the Wolves man has a strong case for inclusion on the basis that, in away games in the past, he has displayed the defensive aptitude to drop inside and cover the central midfielders.

Lawrence has performed that service also, but put in a poor display against Russia in October that dirtied his bib.

Hunt was one of Ireland's better performers last night -- Craig Levein singled him out -- and has the momentum.

Another area where the assumption is that one place is up for grabs. If Glenn Whelan overcomes his injury issue, then he will take one slot. Who gets the other one?

Darron Gibson was prominent against the Macedonians in March yet Trapattoni indicated at the time that it was the right kind of game for the Derryman.

In other words, a match where Ireland were going to be in the ascendancy.

The heat of Skopje could be a different matter.

Trapattoni could be looking for an extra bit of graft and, with Gibson part of the Manchester United Champions League preparations, Keith Andrews has come through two games this week and, after a torrid campaign ruined by injury, he's arguably in pole position.

Keith Fahey stepped in here, and did reasonably well. Ireland were outnumbered at times which made things difficult.

The Birmingham man was extremely impressive in Slovakia in October, yet that was on the right side of midfield. He may have to wait longer to play in a central role in a competitive match.

Trapattoni will be praying that Shane Long comes through this afternoon's playoff final in one piece. With a number of his other striking options absent, the emergence of Simon Cox has proved to be one of the success stories of the week.

He could be involved at some stage on Saturday.

Cox is a clever player, who prefers to drop deep and link the play. In a game where Ireland are faced with a three-man central midfield, it's a helpful attribute.

It also allows Robbie Keane -- another who likes to roam -- to concentrate on goal poaching. When Kevin Doyle is in the team, he is the focal point, and Long will perform a similar function.

There is no target man in the Keane-Cox partnership, so it's a different option if a game develops in a particular way.

More than anything, the priority now is to move beyond a dramatic week. In the wake of the no-shows, Robbie Keane held a team meeting on the issue and, over the weekend, he came out with strong criticism of players with questionable commitment.

"He (Trapattoni) has to decide between the players who turned up this week ahead of those who just want to pick and choose their games.

"If you don't want to play for Ireland, then don't declare for us," added Keane, without naming names.

James McCarthy and Marc Wilson will have taken note.

Then, you have Ian Harte claiming that, until recently, Trapattoni and Marco Tardelli didn't know he was Irish.

A spat with a 33-year-old who hasn't played international football for a couple of years is the last thing that Trapattoni needs in a week that could have a serious impact on the Euro 2012 qualification prospects.

Irish Independent

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