As the qualifying campaign enters the final straight, Giovanni Trapattoni, despite all the criticism sent his way, has brought Ireland to within touching distance of the playoffs. Host of the YBIG Football Show Dave O’Grady previews the Swedish clash.
There is a quiet confidence among Irish supporters this week as it’s crunch-time in Ireland’s World Cup qualifying group. For quite some time now, we have got used to the reality that the prolific no-nonsense Germany will top the group and qualify for Brazil.
Nevertheless, through all the pressure, all the talk and all the criticism, Giovanni Trapattoni has brought Ireland to the end of another qualification campaign with a real chance of making the playoffs.
Sweden and Austria are locked in a three-way with Ireland, with each country hoping to come out on top. Many will argue that Austria shouldn’t be in the race for second place, and that it was their last minute equaliser in Dublin that gave them their ticket to compete.
However, that would be looking at it through green-tinted glasses. Austria have earned the right to be where they are. They responded to a narrow defeat to Germany by taking the game to Sweden and winning.
For Ireland this Friday, to say we have to win is an understatement. It is make or break and there will be no second chances. A draw would only prolong the tight rope walk from which we would most definitely fall.
A major factor for Ireland will be the ability to get on the ball and play football. The problem is we don’t see much of that in the home games at Lansdowne Road. We seem content to allow the opposition to draw the first card from the deck.
The optimism from Irish fans going into this game is certainly not misguided. Trapattoni has changed personnel and with better players in central roles, Ireland have really controlled games, albeit against teams like Georgia and the Faroe Islands.
I put it to Marco Tardelli this week that Marc Wilson has been deployed in centre midfield ahead of Glenn Whelan for Stoke City, but it was clear that the management will retain Whelan in the central role next to new Everton signing James McCarthy.
The fear here is that Whelan could give the ball away too cheaply and a team like Sweden will punish us.
It is great to see Richard Dunne back in action with QPR and he is likely to start. No doubt his experience and presence alone will assist us in keeping Zlatan Ibrahimovic quiet. It was suggested this week that if Ireland could put the shackles on the PSG striker for the first 20 minutes then we might not see him again for the rest of the game.
The man marking job Paul Green did on him in the Friends Arena in Stockholm became known as the ‘Green Screen’ by some. It is likely that Whelan will be ordered to do a similar role. The only fear is that he cannot get around the field as quick as Green can.
A lot of fans will be hoping to see some of the Hoolahan and Pilkington link up play that Norwich City were quite successful with last season but the reality is both players will start on the bench and Trap may only use them as a last resort.
The performance by Ireland in Stockholm was very encouraging and we really need to be clinical with our chances this time round. Don’t forget Ireland have not won a competitive match against a higher ranked team like Sweden since we beat the Dutch in that memorable 2001 qualifier.
Here is hoping that the boys in green will create a little bit of history tomorrow. If we score early, we need to push on and get more goals. The big fear is if Sweden score first, but there is no doubt that we will not have another ‘Germany 6’ on our hands.
VERDICT: Cagey performance with a draw. Hope I am wrong!