The Germans, the Swedes, the Austrians, Brian Kerr’s Faroes and Kazakhstan. The Republic of Ireland have a tough nut to crack to reach Brazil in 2014 but it was inevitable given our third place seeding. Giovanni Trapattoni has put his faith in a mixed bag of committed but limited players to take the Irish to the European Championships next year. Cashing in our Euro chips (Cash-eu?) will determine whether pecan approach the road to Rio with trepidation or optimism. Otherwise, it’s all macadamic.
The qualifiers may be over a year away but Trapattoni’s future as Ireland manager is not the only thing at stake when the Euro 2012 campaign concludes in the autumn. If the Italian manages to pip Russia to first place in Group B then Germany’s favourites tag when the World Cup series gets under way may not be so clear-cut.
As it is, Ireland are expected to scrap it out with Sweden for the play-off spot. Tradition suggests we will give Germany two tough games. Even under Steve Staunton’s disastrous reign, we were defeated narrowly by a deflected goal in Stuttgart…
…before holding Joachim Loew’s side scoreless in Croke Park.
Indeed under Stan Marino, Ireland dished out a 3-0 friendly drubbing to Sweden in what proved a false dawn.
Germany will always dispose of the minnows, stealing a march on us if we struggle against Austria or slip up against Kazakhstan or the Faroes where former Irish manager Brian Kerr will have them fired up. Equally, Sweden could cause us major problems. However, the Republic’s recent win away to Macedonia suggests Giovanni Trapattoni has instilled a steel in the side. That will only be confirmed if we beat Slovakia in Dublin and achieve a positive result in Moscow in September.
Russia gave us a lesson at Lansdowne Road at the start of the Euro 2012 qualifiers. Our midfield continues to be our Achilles heel and one would fear for us against Germany. We have yet to repeat the performances against Italy and France that pushed us so close to the finish line last time. We will only learn if this Irish team is capable of raising its game again when we face Slovakia in the Aviva Stadium.
Failure to win there and a similar capitulation in Moscow will not only end our Euro hopes, it may well signal the end of Trapattoni’s reign as Irish manager.
Success in those games and ultimate qualification for Poland and Ukraine would see Ireland approach the long trek to South America with increased expectation. Paradoxically, by the time the World Cup 2014 campaign rolls around, Ireland may well have unearthed some new gems to solve our midfield dilemma. With Arsenal rumoured to be chasing James McCarthy and striker Shane Long set to become a Premier League player, Trapattoni, should he remain in charge, may have more quality to choose from in addition to greater confidence in the Irish squad.
Of course, as has been a hallmark of Trap’s tenure, who he selects in the Irish squad is as uncertain as the outcome of our quest to join the party in Brazil in 2014.
The draw in Rio this weekend has only succeeded in focusing Irish minds more closely on the conclusion to our Euro odyssey. End our qualification hoodoo and the world will take notice when Brazil comes calling.