Thursday 22 February 2018

Warsaw packed with Irish possibilities


In Warsaw today, Ireland will look to the future by seeking inspiration from their recent past. There are a few good reasons to look forward to the qualification campaign for the European Championships, primarily the return to the redeveloped Lansdowne Road (the only bit I am prepared to refer to as the Aviva Stadium is the underwhelming stand where the North Terrace used to be).

Ireland will be thinking of the future but it will be the painful past they want to recreate. The management team may have spent some time playing down their desire to pull France in today's draw in Warsaw but it is a re-acquaintance everybody involved with Irish football will be keen to make.

"I would be very happy to draw them," Marco Tardelli said last week. "Maybe we'd be happy in the replay."

Some would see it as a replay, others as a chance to prove a point but Ireland will always have the memories of Paris and with time, it may be seen as another night when Irish football couldn't take the final step. This failure was clouded by the Henry handball and if Ireland draw France it would be interesting to see if he would travel to Dublin

"I think Henry is now not very good. Morally he is down. He knows he made a mistake," Tardelli says.

But France are only one option, even if they are the most tantalising. Ireland proved something to many people in Paris, maybe even Giovanni Trapattoni, in the way they played. The manager has quite vocally disputed the stories that the players took control in the build-up to that game but there is no question that something changed.

The fearlessness Ireland showed that night will need to be evident in a group which may be even more challenging.

Ireland had the opportunities to top their World Cup group and qualify automatically. Again, it is the only guaranteed way of making this tournament, with the play-offs clear in their format: they will be seeded and the seeded team will play at home in the second leg. Nobody can complain about a rule change this time.

As third seeds, Ireland have a lot to be worried about in theory but it is worth repeating that the idea that there are no easy games in international football is almost exactly wrong. There are few difficult games -- although Spain among the top seeds and Serbia or Denmark among the second will be teams to avoid -- and Ireland must ensure that Lansdowne Road becomes an intimidating venue where home games can be won. Crucial points were lost at Croke Park in the last campaign and if the same spirit that took Ireland so close in Paris remains then there is reason to believe.

There are other teams to avoid. A return to Cyprus would be cruel and unusual punishment and there are travel complications to some of the lower seeds that Trapattoni will be eager to avoid. Brian Kerr's Faroe Islands seems an inevitability and it would be a tantalising game for everybody.

Ireland must be lifted by the draw. This tournament offers a last chance for many of the players. Robbie Keane will be observed closely following his disheartening move to Scotland.

An air of lethargy seems to have settled into the Irish management team since Paris. None of the players eligible to wear the green jersey appears to have been contacted, although the the friendly against Brazil would have been an ideal opportunity to study new faces.

This is a strange oversight and it would be troubling if the management believed that the moral victory in Paris was an indication of mission accomplished. There has to be more to come from this side even if France are not the team providing the motivating.

Euro 2012 Qualifying Draw,

RTE 2, 11.10

Sunday Independent

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