Republic of Ireland vs Bosnia & Herzogovina
And so it begins. Ireland’s great adventure back on the European stage kicks into action with the first pre-tournament friendly against Bosnia & Herzegovina in Dublin. When we took our seats at the old Lansdowne Road ten years ago to send Ireland on their way to the Far East with a farewell game against Nigeria, who would have believed it would be a decade before we would be back at football’s top table?
In fact for the Republic squad, Euro 2012 got under way when ten players were put through their paces by Giovanni Trapattoni atMalahidee at the end of last week before the bulk of the squad touched down in Dublin. Ten players – only one goal keeper, barely enough for a five-a-side – but for James McClean among them, the work of breaking into the Italian manager’s plans had begun.
Some of the squad attended Glenn Whelan’s wedding on Saturday. The midfielder could be in for the greatest month of his life if Ireland can marry midfield grit with attacking prowess and pull of something incredible in Poland.
Giovanni Trapattoni stole a march on the other competing nations at Euro 2012 by naming his 23-man squad early. With the Champions League consigned to history, the focus of the rest of the continent turns to Poland and Ukraine. Yet the Irish squad have been in camp for a few days now and the battle cry emanating from the players has struck a chord with the following Green Army.
Shay Given told the audience of the Late Late Show that Ireland were going to Poland to try and win the tournament. Keith Andrews has said his team-mates are not going there for the craic, that they intend to qualify from the group. Ten years on from Saipan, Roy Keane would approve of the vibes coming from the Irish and he has said as much in recent interviews.
It’s like a team coming out onto the pitch early for the second half because they’ve got business to do. Ireland look like men on a mission and the process begins at home to Bosnia & Herzegovina this weekend.
With the English season now finished, all eyes turn to the Boys in Green who will benefit from the beleaguered Irish public’s appetite for good news. Leinster rugby and Katie Taylor have caused a wave of enthusiasm that will sweep across Europe with Trap’s men to Poland.
Saturday’s opponents were chosen with Croatia in mind. The Bosnians suffered their own Parisian heartache in qualifying. In the final group game, leading 1-0 through an Edin Dzeko goal, they looked on course for automatic qualification. However, they were thwarted by a controversial penalty decision when Samir Nasri appeared to be fouled outside the box before stumbling inside and earning a spot-kick with just 12 minutes remaining. The Man City player dusted himself off to fire home and send Les Blues through by a point and condemn the fuming Bosnians to the perils of the play-offs. They were heavily beaten going down 6-2 to Portugal.
Man City’s Edin Dzeko is the danger man and will give the Irish defence plenty to think about. Trapattoni has been forced to rest Richard Dunne and will look to ascertain his options should we lose the Minister for Defence during the tournament. If the likes of O’Dea and Kelly feature at the Aviva, they will know that a good showing will enhance their chances of being sprung from the bench. Equally, any sub-standard showing by any Irish player will cause alarm bells as many observers have commented – barring perhaps, Seamus Coleman – of the paucity of the Republic’s stand-by list.
Interestingly, when John O’Shea suffered an injury scare in Sunderland’s final Premier League game, Paul McShane and Coleman were touted as the call-up replacements. Sean St Ledger has since joined the injury list and McShane has been drafted in. Yet part of John O’Shea’s Ireland remit is to act as cover for left-back Stephen Ward. With all due respect to Stephen Kelly who Trapattoni has said could deputise there, Marc Wilson is the ideal candidate but he has not been deemed worthy of a place even on the reserves.
The endangered dogs on the streets of Kiev know the team Trapattoni will play in the tournament opener against Croatia. So will the Italian show his hand again and name as close to a full strength team, barring his current defensive injury woes, this weekend?
In many ways, the pre-Euro warm-ups will be all about James McClean. Assistant Marco Tardelli has said it is possible the Sunderland player could force his way into the team and has already been impressed with the 23-year-old’s work-rate in training. McClean is hungry to replace either McGeady and Duff and that competition can only be healthy for the squad. Stephen Hunt, too will know, he needs to step it up.
Likewise in attack, Jon Walters and Simon Cox will feel these games are their chance to influence the management’s thinking.
The start of the tournament is so close now, Euro fever is only likely to rev up. With a quick pit-stop at the Aviva, the camper-vans will hit the rocky road to Poland. And they could do without any bumps on Saturday. Irish preparations have been running fairly smoothly so far. A little more gas in training and Ireland will be ready to floor it come June 10th in Poznan.