Preview: On our Pyrenees but Summit Still in Sight

Andorra vs Republic of Ireland

A win is a must. Haven’t we heard that before? The Irish players are saying all the right things. Many are talking about the possibility of outright qualification. Yet, what has changed? Before the Slovakia game in the Aviva Stadium, Ireland needed a victory to go top of the group. Had we got it, combined with the subsequent heroic rearguard in Moscow, we would be sitting pretty at the top of the table now. Two wins and we would be packing our bags for Poland and Ukraine.

The players, the management, the fans said we had to beat Slovakia at home to go top. And we didn’t do it.

Now barely a month on, presuming we beat Andorra on Friday, (they have no points and have only scored once, against us in Dublin) we are repeating that we must win against Armenia to secure a play-off spot. What has changed? We didn’t win when we needed to last time. Now we must win just to ensure we enter the lottery of the play-offs, two-games that are weighted in favour of the higher seed. If we didn’t achieve victory last time, why should we expect it this time?

How many times have we been here before? At the start of every campaign, it is always said, to qualify you must win your home games. Since Holland in 2001, who of the top seeds in our groups have Ireland beaten in Dublin? And we scarcely need reminding that we haven’t qualified for a finals since 2002.

In the World Cup 2010 odyssey, we should have twice beaten Italy and should have beaten Bulgaria away when we missed glorious chances. But we didn’t. We drew and we went into the play-offs which we ultimately lost.

We don’t win games when we have to. That’s why Paris remains such a shock to the system. Needing a victory to level the tie, we won 1-0 away from home against an admittedly free-falling European power to force the tie to extra-time. It was as unexpected as the free-flowing attacking football employed by the Irish team, at odds with everything that went before or has followed since.

The moving of the Andorra game away from Barcelona to the tiny principality in the Pyrnees heaps pressure on Ireland because this really is what Steve Staunton termed a potential banana skin.

It will be akin to a training ground for the Irish team. Fewer than 900 fans will be present.

Yet whatever team Trapattoni puts out, they will be expected to win. The hosts have scored just three goals in the last 22 games. Ireland have netted three goals in each of their previous qualifiers against this opposition and go into the game on the back of seven straight clean sheets. The visitor’s problems begin with our inability to create chances. Even against Andorra, any team that can’t make openings is destined to struggle.

With Richard Dunne suspended, Darren O’Dea may partner Sean St Ledger who was a colossus against Slovakia. However, Trap may opt to move John O’Shea into the centre with Stephen Kelly and Paul McShane vying for the full-back spot. For all his critics, McShane was the star of the Nations Cup series and could surely be trusted to handle the Andorran part-timers.

Aiden McGeady is a man on trial. He, more than most needs to deliver again, though he showed sparks of magic in Moscow.

Keane, Doyle, Cox, and Long are challenging for two starting spots with the withdrawal of Walters a blow to Ireland’s ability to change the system should our attempts to get the breakthrough on Friday drag on. The omission of the in-form Leon Best could also prove to be a mistake.

Ireland will win easily on Friday but it won’t be pretty.

Slovakia may well do us the favour that would turn our world upside down. They have already beaten Russia away from home and now welcome Advocaats’s side to Zilina looking for the win that would catapult themselves back into the qualification reckoning.

If they do it, Ireland will return to the scenario which existed before the Slovak game. Win when it matters and we qualify for the European Championships. Win when it matters and we do what we haven’t done for nine years. Win when it matters and Ireland will deliver on all the meaningless words from the players that have not translated into action. Win Ireland. Just win.

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