An Alpine chill threatens to freeze our hopes of a summer of soccer and samba in Brazil next year. We’ve had a few days to digest the happenings at the Aviva Stadium last Tuesday and the overwhelming feeling is still one of regret. Sixty seconds more and Ireland would have been in the driving seat for the play-off spot in World Cup qualifying Group C. Instead, Irish fans remain frustrated and angry but still hold a glimmer of hope. Here’s ten talking points.
The decision to leave Conor Sammon on was wrong. Sammon was spent. He won a couple of headers and made a nuisance of himself but contributed nothing like we’ve seen Jonathan Walters, or especially Kevin Doyle, do in that role before.
In his post match comments, Trapattoni said Shane Long was tired but the player himself told Tony O’Dongohue he was fine. Everyone could see Sammon’s legs were gone far before the final whistle but he was left on the pitch for the full 90 minutes.
Austria’s equaliser came from a deflection.
Ireland weren’t the first team to ever retreat into their shells trying to defend a narrow lead. Many will say we were asking to concede but we have to acknowledge how bloody unlucky we were. Sixty seconds from a massive win and David Alaba’s shot took a deflection off Sean St Ledger that gave David Forde no chance. In the past Trapattoni has been described as a lucky manager. That luck deserted him on Tuesday and with the maulings in Poland and by Germany still fresh in the minds, this is an Irish team short on the confidence to continue to retain possession when a morale-boosting victory was seconds away.
Wes Hoolahan is the new Lee Carsley
Wes Hoolahan’s reputation has been enhanced ten-fold by the clamours for his inclusion. Does he merit it? There’s no doubt Hoolahan’s introduction on Tuesday, as evidenced in Sweden, would have increased Ireland’s chances of keeping possession and running down the clock. The decision to bring on Green on the right wing was another instance from the manager of throwing players on out of position. The intention was clear. Green is a defensive player and the more defensive players on the pitch in Trap’s mind, meant bodies and blocks in the way. We all know Trap is a defensive coach. The substitution shouldn’t have come as that much of a surprise.
Under Brian Kerr, the call was for Lee Carlsey. Under Trapattoni the call first was for Stephen Ireland, except the player didn’t want to play for his country. Then there was the crusade for Andy Reid to be recalled. There’s no guarantee had Hoolahan been on the pitch, Ireland would have seen the game out but what is clear is that the players who were there threw it away.
Blame also lies with the players
Coleman, O’Shea, Wilson, McClean, McCarthy, Whelan, Walters. The Irish team that finished against Austria included seven Premier League players and they were incapable of holding out for the 60 seconds that would have assured Ireland went second in the group. Our entire attacking threat went out the window and the final moments of the game were a lesson in how to panic.
With the 90 minutes just up, Paul Green won a free-kick in the corner and played a quick-pass with Jon Walters to run the ball to the flag. Walters was unable to keep possession. He lost the ball and gave away a free himself.
The ball went back down field and almost led to a chance in the box before Coleman thumped a long punt up field where Sammon offered nothing in the way of a challenge. It was aimless from the Derby striker and unfortunately it mirrored a lot of what he did on Tuesday. Seconds later McCarthy hit a chipped pass into no man’s land and handed possession back to the Austrian keeper
Just before the goal came, Whelan hooked the ball out of defence and once again Sammon offered no challenge whatsoever. From there the football was worked to Alaba and we were sunk.
It wasn’t just the decision not to bring on Hoolahan that cost Ireland. Arguably it was the decision to leave Sammon, and not Long, on the pitch, but like the manager, the players have to be responsible for their actions.
Austria are ranked 79th in the world, 39 places lower than Ireland and were the fourth seed at the beginning of qualifying. In our two previous campaigns under Trapattoni we were beating these teams when it mattered even if we tended to draw against the top sides in the group. Perhaps traditionally, Austria would be considered a stronger opponent but in the cold light of day Ireland failed to beat one of the lower ranked sides and that may come to cost us.
We were seconds away from the atmosphere around the Irish team being completely transformed. For a brief period in the aftermath of the Swedish result, there was an air of positivity about the national team. A win on Tuesday and we could have been clear in second place. Much of the negativity that has engulfed the team since last summer would have evaporated. There’s none so fickle as a football fan. Now, the calls for the head of the manager have ratcheted up. Eamon Dunphy has howled for Trapattoni to be changed right now while Giles and Brady disagree. Those conflicting view-points are mirrored among the fans and it makes for a dark mood around the Irish soccer team.
The hangover from Euro 2012 continues to impair the judgement of many Irish fans and pundits. There’s a perception that last Tuesday was a case of “same old, same old”. In fact, it has been staggering that so little attention has been paid to the drastic change in style of the Irish team in the last two games.
Compared to what we have been watching for the last three years – the long ball game with full-backs afraid to venture outside the defensive third – the Irish team has been transformed. Trapattoni may not be earning any credit for this but the last two games have both been described among some sections of the Irish support as the best performances since Paris in 2009.
Seamus Coleman, Marc Wilson, James McClean, James McCarthy, and Shane Long on Tuesday, personify this flourishing of youth who are prepared to keep possession and get forward with intent. It’s been noticeable that when McClean or John Walters on the flanks were dispossessed in Stockholm and in the first half on Tuesday, both Coleman and Wilson were only yards away offering support. It’s in stark contrast to previous teams when the likes of John O’Shea and Stephen Ward rarely left their own half. It’s this new approach that gives fans some hope that we could turn over Austria and Sweden in the return games.
We can still do it
We are not out of World Cup qualifying. We are level on 8 points with Sweden and Austria and both those sides still have to face each other and Germany. Historically, Ireland have relied on the results of our opponents to go our way. In the last qualifying campaign it was Armenia’s 4-0 win over Slovakia that scuppered the Slovaks chances while our 2-1 win over the Armenians at Lansdowne secured the play-off spot. For long spells against both Sweden and Austria, Ireland were the stronger side. That has to give us confidence that we can defeat the Swedes at home and take something from the game in Austria. While Ireland take on the Faroes in Dublin in June, Sweden and Austria will be meeting in Vienna. The outcome of that game could yet have a big bearing on Ireland’s chances.
We need to post up a big score at home to the Faroes on June 7 to improve our minus goal-difference. Ireland’s biggest win under Trapattoni was a 5-0 Carling Nations Cup victory over Northern Ireland. The Faroes are currently ranked 153rd in the world. We’d have to hope that our new attack-minded approach will reap dividends against the Islanders who were beaten 6-0 by Austria two weeks ago
Tony the Tiger
Tony O’Donoghue has been praised and pilloried in equal fashion for asking Giovanni Trapattoni in the post-match interview if he wanted to remain in the Irish job and if he was under further pressure. Mainly TOD’s media colleagues have been saying it was a legitimate question. We’ve seen it in the past for example with former Ireland rugby coach Eddie O’Sullivan. Given that most said this was a must-win game, and we didn’t do that, Trapattoni certainly had some questions to answer but surely not if he was going to quit his job? We all, Tony included, knew the answer. The manager was never going to quit given that his team is level on points with second place half way through a World Cup qualifying phase. Trapattoni deserves criticism but he also deserves respect. If we all knew the answer, why ask the question?