Preview: Kazakhstan vs Republic of Ireland
Kazakhstan is a long way to go for redemption. It’s about as far away from Poznan as you can get. Still licking the wounds from the summer, Trapattoni’s Ireland are cat-hunting again but, criticised for his unwillingness to change, if perfomances don’t improve, the claws will be out.
With supporters still baffled by the decision to deploy Simon Cox on the wing in place of James McClean in Poland, Trapattoni has risked their ire by repeating the selection for Friday’s World Cup opener in Astana.
Jonathan Walters is preferred to Kevin Doyle and partners Robbie Keane in attack. Despite criticism of his performances in Euro 2012, Stephen Ward retains the left back slot. It looks like a central pairing of St. Ledger and O’Dea with O’Shea on the right.
As expected, James McCarthy lines up alongside Whelan in the middle.
If Cox operates as a winger, failure to deviate from a 4-4-2 system will be the final nail in the coffin for some. The set-up has been called redundant and inflexible to the needs of modern day football. Yet, formations are nothing without the players to fill them.
You’d probably have to go back to Mick McCarthy’s reign to find an Irish team that carved out scoring opportunities with any regularity. We just don’t create chances and never put four or five past the supposed minnows in our groups unlike other nations.
The prospect of Ireland deploying a lone striker is a terrifying thought. If people think we are defensive now, imagine how scarce goal chances will be with a single front-man.
An argument for a three-man midfield and two wide men is fine when you’re sitting at a bar discussing Irish football over a pint. But who’s going to fill the roles?
Aiden McGeady has never shown any appetite for providing defensive cover. James McClean is much more inclined but Trapattoni favours a striker, Simon Cox, in that role in Astana. You’d wonder how much a forward player could adequately track-back in a new system.
Of course central midfield has always been our problem area. The argument for a third operator in there is sound when you consider how Spain ripped us apart. But who is going to step in there?
Would Ireland have fared better in Gdansk with a perceived light-weight midfield of James McCarthy and Wes Hoolahan, or Ciaran Clark, Marc Wilson, and Darron Gibson? To be fair, they couldn’t do any worse.
Perspective is needed. Ireland had a miserly defence in Euro qualifying taking an 18-game unbeaten run into the finals. That defensive rock was obliterated in Poland and if Trapattoni can re-establish that foundation, he will have gone some way to restoring the damage.
Kazakhstan are ranked 142nd in the world. They finished bottom in their Euro qualifying group with just four points, a win coming against Azerbaijan and a draw at home to Austria, our World Cup opponents. Along the way they conceded 24 goals.
The group was won with a 100% record by Germany, the side everyone expects to qualify automatically for Brazil.
Ireland should win on Friday no matter what formation we play but supporters will demand an impressive performance ahead of the Germans’ visit to Lansdowne Road. On the evidence of Poland, many have written off our chances in that game. Anihilation on a Spanish scale is foreseen.
In Kazakhstan, we must demonstrate that we’ve first re-established a solidity at the back.. We can go out will all the attacking intent we like, a new formation, and new tactics, but no system will spare us if we don’t learn to defend again.
Republic of Ireland team vs Kazakhstan:
Westwood, O’Shea, St. Ledger, O’Dea, Ward, Whelan, McCarthy, McGeady, Cox, Walters, Keane.