Despite some frustrating nights, Irish fans are beginning to realise that no second-placed side in Europe would fancy facing a team that hasn’t conceded a goal in 720 minutes of football. If Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland are just as miserly on Tuesday, he’ll deliver the Republic to another play-off with the ‘mentality’ that we’ve got unfinished business.
However, the argument for going for the win against Armenia at the Aviva Stadium is strengthened by the fact that Ireland could be seeded in those play-offs and enjoy home advantage in the second leg.
And yet, Armenia have scored 11 goals in their last three games. Their run of form has prompted several of the Irish squad to lament the lack of credit they received for winning 1-0 in Yerevan at the start of the campaign.
The visitors, who must win to overtake Ireland in second spot, have certainly raised eye-brows with recent results. They’ve scored four in both of their last two games against Slovakia and Macedonia and have netted in all of their away fixtures. Meanwhile, our inability to seriously threaten the Slovaks at the Aviva and the amount of possession we surrendered in our own house will only boost Armenia’s confidence further. They have momentum but if Moscow shows us anything, Ireland are experts at choking the life out of their opponents.
Robbie Keane is likely to be out due to a muscle injury. The LA Galaxy player had some glaring misses in the game in Andorra. Some might point out that even a hot streak in the MLS might leave the Irish captain off the pace of international football but no one was complaining when he was scoring in Scotland. We won comfortably on Friday and Robbie has been in a rich vein of form for Ireland lately so deserves some slack.
The question is, will Trapattoni do the obvious thing and play Long and Doyle up front, re-uniting the former Reading players, or spring one of his bizarre selections and leave Long out of the starting line-up?
Jonathan Walters has flown to Dublin having missed Friday’s game with an injury and the Stoke player has been amongst the goals lately particularly in the Potters’ Europa League run.
Tuesday sees the immovable object, a.k.a. Richard Dunne, meet the unstoppable force, albeit the FIFA-ranked 44th in the world unstoppable force.
Normally, a team on the back of nine clean sheets would feel little pressure playing at home knowing that only a draw is needed to reach the Euro 2012 play-offs.
The worry for Ireland fans is we have created so few chances in games and been given the run-around in midfield by virtually everyone except the Andorrans, that if Armenia did manage to beat Shay Given on Tuesday, we’re unsure of our ability to score at the other end.
The loss of Keane may prove to be a blessing in disguise as Shane Long is full of confidence while Kevin Doyle may feel he has a point to prove to the management, one he can hammer home by adding to the opening goal he scored in Andorra.
Trapattoni is saying all the right things. Ireland will go for the win. As John Giles pointed out, the team is set up to earn the draw needed to reach the play-offs even if they are sent out by the manager to claim victory. If the Italian really means that, he might opt to put Keith Fahey, scorer of the only goal in the away fixture, in the middle of the park and promote Seamus Coleman, at the very least, to the bench.
On paper, Ireland are favourites to lock out Armenia, score at home, and put their names in the hat for Thursday’s draw in Krakow. Of course, as the cliché goes, football is not played on paper but in the case of our last home game against Slovakia, it’s not played at the Aviva either.
With a rare capacity crowd expected at Lansdowne Road, Ireland must show the country that, not only are they good enough to secure a play-off spot, but with the ghosts of Paris forever haunting our national football team, they are capable of beating whoever are sent our way.
After the hammering we took by Russia early on, every Irish fan would have taken second in the group at this stage. Giovanni Trapattoni is 90 minutes away from delivering that objective. He has turned the Republic into a team that seemingly no one can beat. And going into a potential play-off, what nation fancies facing a team like that?
Against Armenia, we must score at the other end. Win, and we send out a clear signal that we’re ready and waiting for whatever Europe throws our way.