World Cup football, Republic of Ireland, FAI, FAROE ISLANDS, Aviva Stadium
Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni often seems to have a story to fit each and every occasion, but there was none yesterday to illustrate how any of his sides had ever been on the wrong end of a result like tonight’s at the Aviva Stadium.
Chelsea beating Bayern in last year’s Champions League final has been wheeled out more than once by the Italian as an example of David beating Goliath, but if his side doesn’t beat the Faroe Islands, he’ll have a more startling example on his hands; and, of course, he would probably be citing it to a new audience before too long.
The Italian, lest we forget, was supposed to be on the way out when the two sides last met back in October. Against the remarkable background of “a senior FAI source” doing his level best to undermine the manager in the wake of a hefty defeat by Germany, Trapattoni showed considerable class to keep his composure, stay focused on preparing his players well and ultimately engineered a win that enabled his side to turn a bit of a corner.
Ireland’s six matches since may not have been flawless – the tail-end of the Austria game was clearly a major blow to the team’s hopes of qualifying for next year’s World Cup, made all the harder to bear by the extent to which the setback was self-inflicted – but there have been a few positives and in the immediate aftermath of the draw in London against England and a big win at the weekend over Georgia, there is a real sense of confidence around the squad again.
However, it would evaporate quickly enough if this evening does not go to plan, but there is little enough in the Faroes’ recent record to suggest that they can come here and cause a real surprise – as long as Trapattoni and his players play to something approaching their own potential.
The visitors haven’t managed a positive result of any description since beating Estonia at home two years ago this month.
On home soil they gave the Swedes a scare last October and certainly didn’t roll over a few days later when Trapattoni and co came to town.
Still, against a generally strong Ireland side that should be highly motivated, breaking a run of three defeats in three meetings between the sides should prove beyond them.
As events in Torshavn showed, however, this Irish side rarely makes life easy for themselves and an early goal would make matters a little less edgy than it was at half-time in the away game.
Then, the Faroese showed enough determination in defence to thwart the Irish through the opening half and sufficient invention on the counter-attack.
Eventually Arnbjorn Hansen got them a goal that was well deserved but by then Ireland had a decisive advantage.
The hope this time will be that Wes Hoolahan, and what Trapattoni described yesterday as his “fantastic final pass”, can make their resistance that little bit easier to break down. It won’t be the only factor, though.
The Italian’s shift towards a generally more attacking outlook has markedly continued with his team selection and while there will be those who believe James McClean did enough against Georgia to merit selection here, Simon Cox has been preferred because he is seen as more likely to actually score a goal rather than just set one up.
McClean, indeed, may well feature over the course of the evening but Trapattoni was at pains yesterday to explain the decision to omit him from the start, contending that the 24-year-old Sunderland winger can neither play on the right or up front, and would therefore limit the amount of flexibility the manager will enjoy to chop and change the roles of those who start ahead of him.
If Séamus Coleman and Marc Wilson can maintain the sort of form they have shown in recent internationals then the side’s attacking impetus should be considerable although the right-back, in particular, needs to ensure that he does not hand opportunities to opponents by surrendering possession as he seeks to play his way out of defence.
Stick goals away
It would be nice, of course, if the night belonged to Robbie Keane on this the occasion of his 126th appearance for his country and wonderful if, as Trapattoni suggested yesterday, it really were as simple as his team-mates giving their skipper the ball so that he can stick the goals away.
Barring another gift like Sunday’s sending-off, the game is sure to be more difficult and the big win required to close the goal difference on the Austrians looks highly unlikely.
Three points, though, along with, perhaps, a favour from Ireland’s chief rivals for second place, who meet tonight in Vienna, would certainly be enough to maintain the team’s hopes of a play-off place entering the autumn run-in.
Given some of the dramas that have been endured over the campaign’s first half, that would probably seem satisfactory enough come this evening’s final whistle.
How they’ll line out
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Forde (Millwall); Coleman (Everton), O’Shea (Sunderland), St Ledger (Leicester City), Wilson (Stoke City); Cox (Nottingham Forest), Hoolahan (Norwich City), Whelan (Stoke City), McGeady (Spartak Moscow); Keane (LA Galaxy), Walters (Stoke City).
FAROE ISLANDS (probable): Nielsen (Silkeborg, Denmark); Naes (Valur, Iceland), Baldvinsson (Bryne, Norway), Justinussen (NSI Runavik, Faroe Is), Jonsson (Silkeborg, Denmark); Hansson (Aalborg, Denmark), Holst (Silkeborg, Denmark), Olsen (B36 Torshavn, Faroe Is); Samuelsen (HB Torshavn, Faroe Is), Edmundsson (Viking, Norway), Mouritsen (HB Torshavn, Faroe Is).
Referee: M Gestranius (Finland).