Many expected our World Cup hopes to be dashed in Sweden. Instead, the Irish team shocked us with their display in Stockholm and they take on Austria on Tuesday with an opportunity to put us firmly in the play-off spot. How did that happen? Here’s ten talking points.
Take a bow son. From the first minute, the Millwall shot-stopper exuded confidence. He made some vital saves most notably right at the death and it was noticeable how pumped both he and Coleman were at the final whistle. Forde’s height gave him an imposing presence against what were some tall fellas in the Swedish line-up. Forde even scored a few pluses over Shay Given by coming out and claiming crosses which boosted his team-mates and lent the Irish back-line an assuredness.
Hats off to Green. The world and its mother criticised the decision to play the Leeds midfiedler prior to kick-off but he did exactly what was asked of him. He wasn’t there to make probing runs and defence splitting passes. His role was to hassle the Swedes and get his body in the way. James McCarthy’s man-of-the match award can partly be attributed to Green’s performance, something Trapattoni echoed in his post match comments.
Seamus Coleman and Marc Wilson were a revelation in the Irish defence. Prior to this game, Ireland’s full backs were the chief culprits for hoofing the ball long to bypass our hopelessly inept midfield. Shockingly for a Trapattoni Irish side, you could count on one hand the amount of times Ireland’s back-four hit a long ball. Both Coleman and Wilson were prepared to turn an opponent or take him on. The amount of times they were threatening outside the opposition penalty area would have given heart-attacks to the Green Army unused to an Irish side actually getting forward under Trapattoni.
Will Whelan replace McCarthy on Tuesday?
Glenn Whelan is fit again for the game with Austria and he was Trap’s first choice to start with Green on Friday. The consensus is that one or the other will play this week while James McCarthy will retain his place. It’d be nice to believe that Trapattoni now thinks differently after seeing the type of positive football his team played in Stockholm. We just don’t know. Trap has made so many baffling decisions in the past that he could still quite easily play both Green and Whelan. The difference is, away from home we could be set up to stop Sweden playing. Against Austria, we have to take the game to the opposition. We need the attacking intelligence that came from James McCarthy.
Many people are regarding Robbie’s injury for Tuesday as a blessing in disguise. Keane had a couple of half chances on Friday when he failed to control the ball and generally he didn’t pose much of a threat. But neither did Shane Long. There were several instances when Keane determinedly tracked back to dispossess the Swedes before they could launch a counter attack.
Robbie probably isn’t able for two full 90 minutes now anyway. The question is, with Doyle now called up, does Conor Sammon stand ahead of him in the pecking order?
If we don’t win, is Trap gone?
Is Friday’s performance and the apparent evolution of both the team and style enough to keep Trapattoni if we only draw on Tuesday? Ireland currently sits in fourth in Group C despite the hugely encouraging draw in Stockholm. A loss could spell the end of Trap even though mathematically there’s still plenty could happen. Austria play Sweden in June when we are home to the Faroes before we welcome the Swedes to Dublin in September while Austria travel to Germany.
If Ireland continue to play encouraging football but only draw, will that be enough to satisfy the fans and the media that we could remain in the hunt to qualify for Brazil?
Can we win?
Ireland, under Trapattoni against our main rivals, do not win at home when we have to. In fact, Ireland historically haven’t done so since Jason McAteer’s goal defeated Holland. In qualifying for Euro 2012, we could have went top of the group had we beaten Slovakia at home and we put in a disgusting performance. People might remember that the team was actually booed off at the final whistle. The heroic draw against Russia came a few days later, but in hindsight, it was Armenia’s 4-0 win over Slovakia the same night that largely secured the play-off spot for the Republic. The prospect of topping the group did nothing to encourage us to cast off the shackles and go for the win at home.
Liam Brady feels Ireland lack the quality to score enough goals and for that reason could struggle to beat Austria. If Friday is anything to go by, this is a a new Ireland team who no longer play long ball football. If they play the same way on Tuesday, they can win. Austria may have only conceded two goals in qualifying and they beat the Faroes 6-0 last week but they also recently lost to Wales. Trapattoni’s team selection will tell us if he’s prepared to embrace both who, and how we played in Sweden.
In the past, away from home, we could have expected Trapattoni to see out the game with few tactical substitutions. Not so on Friday. Often, what the manager actually has to say in his post match comments is dismissed as most have already made their mind up themselves but Trapattoni recognised Sweden were there for the taking.
“It wasn’t easy to change because all the players were playing well, but I tried to force the situation with Hoolahan, Sammon, Keogh because with fresh players I hoped we could score the goal.”
In Sweden, Ireland struggled to carve out openings and Shane Long probably had the best opportunity in the first half. With Doyle now called up, our attacking options off the bench would look to be stronger but if things are not going well against Austria, are the untried Brady and Sammon the men to change things around? Our hopes look to rest on Wes Hoolahan.
Will Wes Hoolahan replace Keane?
Hoolahan was terrific against Poland last month and offered a spark when introduced against Sweden. But he’s not a striker. Ireland had no shots on target in the Friends Arena and Conor Sammon was alsoTrapattoni’s choice to finish the game up front so there’s no guarantee at all that Hoolahan will start on Tuesday. Wes deployed just behind an attacker is an intriguing prospect but that would be an even newer formation and style than we saw from Ireland in Stockholm. Is it too much to expect Trap to alter the way we play twice in four days?
Many Irish fans’ resentment of Trapattoni is so deeply-rooted that there is a far from unanimous verdict that Ireland even played well on Friday. Most would have to acknowledge the vast improvement in how we performed. McCarthy, Coleman, Wilson, and McClean all looked to keep possession of the ball and take players on. This type of play was completely alien to what we’ve been watching for the last three years. OK, it didn’t bring goals but it would have been an injustice had Ireland lost the other night.
It’s difficult to know if the Swedish display will swell the numbers at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday. What is guaranteed though is if we win and take second place, Irish football will have a massive bounce in its step and a renewed hope in the stands to take to Wembley for the May friendly with England and the rest of the rocky road to Rio.