It’s ten years since Robbie Keane danced through the German defence and blasted a last gasp equaliser past Oliver Khan. Miroslav Klose, the man who scored Germany’s opener that day, is still leading the attack but Robbie won’t be doing cartwheels after being ruled out of Friday’s clash between the sides. The interest of a pessimistic Irish public, however, has also gone head over heels.
Even before a ball had been kicked in Kazakhstan, the Irish football team had fallen massively out of favour with sports fans. Just weeks before, the Irish supporters had been dubbed the best in the world for the spirit in which they followed the national side at Euro 2012.
That support has been drowned out by a wave of spiteful criticism most fervently reserved for the manager. The appalling performance in Astana, when we got out of jail with a scarcely-deserved win, has heightened the fear around the visit of Germany to Dublin.
Annihilation is predicted. The prevailing feeling is that Irish manager Giovanni Trapattoni has learned nothing from the poleaxing in Poland.
And yet, this week, Trap has abandoned the strait-jacketed system. Ireland will play 4-5-1 (or 4-3-3 depending how attacking you expect us to be) in an attempt to disrupt the German game-plan at the Aviva. The Italian’s hand has been forced by retirements and the crushing injury crisis that has engulfed the squad but suddenly the public is intrigued by how Ireland will line out on Friday.
Our second game in World Cup qualifying Group C was always headed for a sell-out. The visit of global powerhouse Germany, Euro semi-finalists and second in the FIFA rankings, has ensured tickets are in hot demand. By the time kick-off rolls around, many fans will have shaken off the pessimism and immersed themselves in the cruel giddiness of foolish hope. Maybe, just maybe, the Boys in Green will pull off something spectacular.
A probable three-man central midfield of Keith Andrews, James McCarthy and Keith Fahey will be flanked by Aiden McGeady and most likely Simon Cox.
Robbie Keane is the focal point for many Irish supporters’ ire but the captain is on a hot-streak at club-level and he was due to lead the line against the Germans. The LA Galaxy forward has now been ruled out of the game due to an ankle injury with Jon Walters preferred to Shane Long. Birthday boy Seamus Coleman earns his first competitive start at right-back.
Joachim Loew’s side is suffering its own crisis this week. They are without suspended skipper Philip Lahm and are suffering their own post-Euro fall-out. Rumours of discontent were reaffirmed this week by Bastian Schweinsteiger who returns after a lengthy spell out through injury. Ten years after scoring against Ireland at World Cup 2002, veteran striker Miroslav Klose still leads the German attack and scored a double for his club Lazio last weekend.
The brilliant Mezut Ozil netted twice against the Faroe Islands and then from the spot as Germany struggled against Austria in Vienna. Lahm cleared from the line as the visitors held a 2-1 lead and they would have dropped costly points had Marko Arnautovic not missed from mere inches late on.
Ireland assistant manager Marco Tardelli has targetted the German defence as a possible weakness but should the Boys in Green manage to breach the rear-guard, they’ll have to get past the imposing Manuel Neuer.
Trap has not yet named his starting eleven for the huge task ahead. He continues to face unrelenting criticism but the Irish squad now includes players like Seamus Coleman, Ciaran Clark, David Meyler, and Robbie Brady; contenders that seemed peripheral to the manager’s plans in the aftermath of Astana but will now tog out at Lansdowne Road.
We were always unlikely to see many of them in action for such a crucial tie. A decade after Korea and Japan, the man who took Ireland back onto the world stage, like Keane and Klose, knows the value of experience.