Preview: Mission to Moscow

After Friday’s display, Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for a first tournament since 2002 looked doomed. The reaction of the crowd at the end said it all. The team were booed off the pitch, not because they failed to score but because Irish people only demand one thing, 100% effort from everyone in a green shirt. Many people paid good money to be in the Aviva last week. Many people didn’t. We can accept limited ability but cannot except limited effort. And yet, in Moscow, Ireland have a chance to pay back their fans by finally backing up their words with a performance.

We have waited too long now and suffered too much hardship. Staunton’s disastrous reign set the national team back years and has alienated them from the Irish public. They were booed off the pitch last week, rightly or wrongly, because supporters demand a performance and Giovanni Trapattoni’s team hasn’t delivered one since Paris.

And yet, when the Italian manager has deviated from his first choice for friendly ties against Uruguay and Italy, challenge games that offered a competitive bite, fringe Irish players took their chance and produced displays of substance.

If the Republic can finally perform and do what no one expects, win in Russia, they will be in the driving seat for automatic qualification. The memory of the first clash in Dublin haunts the supporters. The squad have certainly moved on but Friday’s game sticks in the craw because the tempo just faded away. A game of crucial importance descended into a frustrating lack of effort, urgency and end product.

Russia boss Dick Advocaat admitted that his side’s perfomance in Dublin was the best he had seen from a Russian team in some time.

Equally the Dutchman reacted with anger to their display against Macedonia on Friday.

Arsenal’s Andrei Arshavin will captain the team on the plastic pitch at the Luzhniki Stadium. If ever there was a player to blow hot and cold, especially when things are not going well, it’s Arshavin. In others, like Roman Pavlyuchenko and Yury Zhirkov, Russia have a serious threat and Ireland have lost all four previous games in Russia, losing 2-4 on our last visit to Moscow in a Euro 2004 qualifier.

But Ireland will hope Advocaat’s men played their cards in Dublin. Six consecutive clean sheets must count for something. Trapattoni’s charges are also unbeaten in twelve away games.

Russia’s erractic results in the group mean they are far from runaway leaders. If Ireland had taken their chances against Slovakia, we’d be going into the Moscow game knowing it was a shootout for the overall lead. It’s not often you get a second-chance in qualifying groups but we have one now.

Had we taken four points from these two games, many would be confident we could book our flights to Poland and Ukraine.

We took one point in Dublin. Can we do it in reverse and grab three in Moscow?

Many of the players continue to be bullish and that can only be a good thing. Yet others, like Kevin Doyle, have said a draw in Russia wouldn’t be the end of the world. It wouldn’t Kevin, but it might well be the end of the Euros.

There are three games remaining and if we can’t go out and finally cast off the shackles, light the spark that fires us home, then we are doomed to being nearly men. With Russia still to play Slovakia, there is every chance a draw would put us in the play-off’s. Yet, it was that kind of conservative attitude that had the Irish supporters booing their team off the pitch at Lansdowne last week.

Give the people what they want. Back up the talk and take the game to the Russians. Do what we didn’t do on Friday. Take a chance.

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