Here’s a look at how things stand in Euro 2012 qualifying after tonight’s fixtures, with competition not set to resume till 2011. Notice in particular the strength of the usual European superpowers Germany and Spain, with Italy, France and the Netherlands all looking strong again. England will most likely be the sole UK team involved, with Northern Ireland blowing a good start with a draw with the Faroe Islands tonight. Ireland will struggle to top the group after a home defeat to Russia and will face a tough battle for a play-off spot having blown a good chance to beat Slovakia tonight.
|2||Republic of Ireland||4||2||1||1||7||5||2||7|
|4||Bosnia and Herzegovina||3||1||1||1||4||3||1||4|
Well it’s all gone a bit pear-shaped for Ireland after a miserable first hour on Friday, followed by a spirited comeback that just fell short. A 3-2 defeat in Russia wouldn’t have been a disastrous result, but defeat at home with trips to Russia and Slovakia to come makes things seem that bit harder.
It had all started so well. Slovakia’s surprise defeat to Armenia meant Ireland went into the game in the best possible position with all the pressure on Russia. An early goalmouth scramble almost had Ireland in front, it ended with McGeady dragging a shot wide. Had it gone in there’s no telling what might have happened, with Russian heads bowed.
As it was, the tactics were awful. Ireland played what seemed to be at times a 6-2-1-1 formation and that Doyle picked up an injury was no surprise. Not only because the ‘tactics’ seemed to be lump it at Doyle and see what happens, but also because the Russian defenders got away with over-zealous challenges from behind time and again. They managed to disrupt any forward momentum without attracting the referee’s attention too much.
The main problem stems from playing Whelan (what was he playing at for Russia’s first goal?) and Green together in midfield. Trapattoni has received a lot of criticism for his game plan on Friday and a lot of it is justified. However we have a weaker squad now than we have for many years. Whelan and Green are perfect examples. One plies his trade with Derby in the Championship, the other is a bit part player for Stoke.
The centre of midfield was a crucial part of Friday’s game. The dangerous Russian forwards needed to be starved of service, forcing them to drop deeper and deeper to pick up the ball and relieving pressure on Ireland’s defence. As it was, Russia swarmed through midfield to attack seamlessly, with Green and Whelan afraid to go forward for fear of getting caught on the break.
This meant the Ireland central midfield was dangerously close to the defence leaving 30% of the pitch for the Russians to swarm through at pace while Ireland resorted to long-ball tactics. With genuine ball players, Russia found the going easy, and in truth 3-2 flattered Ireland, particularly as Robbie Keane’s penalty was a questionable one to get Ireland back into the game at 3-1.
Richard Dunne’s assessment was absolutely spot-on: We didn’t close them down and our only game plan seemed to be hitting it long. When that didn’t work, we didn’t have an answer. We were not brave enough to have confidence in passing the ball. Going long is the easy way out for some people and it is never going to be good enough.
Aiden McGeady is slowly improving. His final ball was occasionally lacking as always, but he seemed to have a greater purpose to his attacking efforts, even shooting once or twice when he realised the Russian goalkeeper had a bizarre policy of palming away anything that came his way, no matter how tame the effort.
Tomorrow is the turn of Slovakia and one positive to take away from Friday’s game is that the two goals Ireland scored will have them in a different mindset going into the game, than a three or four goal defeat. At least Ireland left the game on a more positive note, but they have to get something from tomorrow night’s game.
Slovakia are a decent team. They proved it at the World Cup when they knocked out Italy and they proved it against Russia last month in a famous away win. However they clearly blow hot and cold and by all accounts were well beaten by Armenia on Friday night. With big players potentially missing from the first team, the Slovakians are in a similar position to Ireland in that they may be relying on weaker players in reserve in what is a crucial game for both teams.
Ireland are without Damien Duff and Kevin Doyle meaning Aiden McGeady will continue with Liam Lawrence on the wings. Up front, Reading’s Shane Long will battle it out with Andy Keogh for a starting role, with the Wolves man likely to get the nod.
Slovakia have big problems of their own however, with forward Robert Vittek injured, while Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel will be serving a ban thanks after getting his second booking of the campaign last Friday evening. Most importantly for Ireland, playmaker Miroslav Stoch, could miss out after picking up an injury in the Armenia defeat.
Man to watch: Robbie Keane
Keane needs a big game tomorrow night. Reduced to appealing in vain for any sort of offence against Russian defenders, Keane needs t show why he is captain tomorrow night with a big performance. Ireland are lacking in creativity and spark. Time for Keane to get at a weakened Slovakia defence.
It is crunch time in qualifying group B as Ireland take on Russia at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Friday night.
While the term ‘crunch time’ may seem ridiculous given that we are only two games into the campaign, Ireland can take a huge step towards qualifying with a victory that would leave Russia with three points from a possible nine. Meanwhile Russia know that they need to go for a win already, having lost at home to Slovakia last time out and having failed to impress in their 2-0 win over Andorra.
Both sides face tricky away trips following Friday night’s clash, with Ireland away to Slovakia who hold a 100% record so far, and Russia travelling to Macedonia. However all eyes will be on Irish coach Giovanni Trapattoni, who has a good record so far but like many Italian managers, is occasionally guilty of settling for draws in games Ireland have a good chance of winning against so-called bigger teams.
When Italy were reduced to ten men after just three minutes of the World Cup qualifier away to Italy on April 1 last year, Ireland could and should have sensed that now was their time to claim a historic result ad attack a weak Italy team made weaker by Gianpaolo Pazzini’s third-minute dismissal. However Ireland failed to pick up the pace and after falling behind needed a last-minute equaliser.
That Italy would find a last-minute equaliser in the return fixture when Ireland had played quite well was perhaps a sense of justice being done.
Does Trapattoni go for the win?
But Trapattoni’s mindset for Friday will be interesting. Again Ireland will find themselves up against opposition which has weakened in recent years. A breathtaking Russian team from 2008 seems to have fallen apart a bit and failing to qualify for the World Cup followed by poor opening performances in this group have put the Russian fans on high alert.
Ireland failed to impress in their opening games either, but know that now is the time to strike. In order to start qualifying for major tournaments again, the men in green need to play without fear of the big boys, as they did against France in the play-offs when they were so cruelly denied.
Damien Duff is ruled out along with Keith Treacy meaning Russian-based winger Aiden McGeady (known as Makgidi on the Spartak website) should continue on the left along with Liam Lawrence who has been in great form for Portsmouth. Doyle and Keane will start up front as usual and Richard Dunne is expected to line up at the back despite missing training on Wednesday. One choice Trapattoni does have is whether to include Everton’s Seamus Coleman as a debutant at right back. This could mean switching John O’Shea to left back and putting Kevin Kilbane on the left in a more defensive formation, dropping Kilbane altogether which is unlikely given the manager’s faith in him, or putting O’Shea in at centre back in an experienced partnership with Dunne (or replacing the Aston Villa man if he fails to recover from injury).
Roman Pavulychenko is ruled out for the tie, meaning Russia will choose a front three from Zenit St Petersburg forwards Alexander Bukharov and Aleksandr Kerzhakov; Arsenal’s Andriy Arshavin and Pavel Pogrebnyak of VfB Stuttgart. The forwards have been in explosive form with Kerzhakov notching up two hat-tricks in three games last month while Pogrebnyak has five goals in seven games for Stuttgart.
LAST TIE BETWEEN THE TWO?
The two teams last met in qualifying for Euro 2004, when Russia won 4-2 in Moscow, racing into a 3-0 lead and sealing maximum points thanks to a Phil Babb own goal after Clinton Morrison and Gary Doherty had reduced the deficit. The return game at Lansdowne Road ended 1-1, Sergei Ignashevich cancelling out Damien Duff’s opener before half-time.
MAN TO WATCH?
Has to be Ireland’s Aiden McGeady. The Spartak Moscow winger is enjoying a new lease of life in Russia where he has averaged an assist per game so far. He admits the pre-game banter before Friday’s clash was “a little lost in translation” but will relish showing the Russians what he can do in a green jersey.
So often a frustrating figure, particularly in Ireland’s 3-1 win over Andorra last month where despite constantly beating hid marker he failed to provide decent crosses, McGeady has been living off his potential for years now, but a brave move to Russia may do him the power of good.
It’s been a while since Ireland have gone into a qualifying campaign full of hope and with a genuine belief that they can progress to the big stage and thus end their ten-year wait.
While the 2002 tournament ended in a penalty shootout defeat to Spain, Ireland players and fans recognised that they had blown a golden chance to go further than their current quarter-final record in 1990. Thierry Henry’s infamous handball put paid to the chance to compete at this year’s World Cup where, again, the standard was unusually low and the boys in green would at least have played with the passion that deserted the bigger nations like England, France and Italy.
European Championships have been few and far between for Ireland, but this year there is genuine optimism that they can progress. A draw alongside Armenia, Andorra, Macedonia, Slovakia and Russia is not the most daunting for a team that has played together for many qualifying campaigns at this stage.
Not only that, but a good start is always welcome and the draw has been reasonably kind in that respect with Armenia and Andorra first up for Trapatoni’s men. Armenia should be overlooked as weak opposition today, but to do so would be an injustice as they have recorded victories over the likes of Belgium and Poland in recent years and are a decent team at home, although they finished bottom of their World Cup qualifying group.
Still, with the likes of Given in goal, Dunne in defence, McGeady, Doyle and Keane in attack, Ireland will hope to pick up where they left off with a minimum of three points and a few goals would come in hand too…
FINALLY! The most protracted (boring) transfer saga of the summer has finally been put to bed after James Milner put pen-to-paper on a new deal at mega bucks Manchester City.
The deal has seen Stephen ‘show me the money’ Ireland complete a move in the opposite direction to Aston Villa for a fee worth around €8 million. All of which means Milner’s transfer price is roughly €18 million. Good thing City waited around long enough to get the right deal, after all it would have been a travesty if they had over-paid for the England wide man. (coughs in a sort of a ‘he’s not worth €18m sort of a way).
Aston Villa have done quite nicely out of this deal and although Stephen Ireland is widely adjudged to be a bit of a lunatic (albeit a lunatic with an agent who manages to secure him €1.5million to leave a job) he is a fine player when he is trusted by a manager. And who better to trust him than former Ireland no.2 Kevin MacDonald who was in the Ireland (team) set-up when Ireland (player) faked the death of his two grandmothers.
Villa now have the cash to go and sign a couple of other decent players. They may well look no further than Man City too after Roque Santa Cruz was left out of the club’s Europa League squad, indicating he will be next to move on from Manchester,
Speaking about the deal, Man City boss Roberto Mancini said: ‘I am very happy to have James with us, everybody knows we have admired him for some time. ‘He is an excellent midfielder, who can play in a number of positions. This is important for the team, and I am looking forward to seeing him play for us. We have a very strong squad, and this signing is a very important one for us. ‘James he is already a very good player, who has proved he can play at the very top level. But he is also young and a good character, I think he can also improve and be a great player for Manchester City for a long time.’
On Ireland’s departure, Mancini added: ‘I hope things go well for Stevie at Villa. He is also a very good player, and he has played a big part in City’s history. I think he will enjoy the change of being at another club, and I hope he does well for Aston Villa.’
James Milner is not in the Europa League squad for tomorrow night’s game but could make his debut alongside Mario Balotelli against Liverpool on Monday night. Spare a thought for poor Roy Hodgson, imagine having to guess what team Man City will put out….the mind boggles.
Manchester City forward Craig Bellamy has threatened to quit football altogether if he is left to linger on the Man City sidelines this season.
The comments come just a day after goalkeeper Shay Given claimed whoever wears the number one jersey for City against Spurs on Saturday will be the preferred goalkeeper for the season and that if it is Joe Hart, Given will seek a move elsewhere.
Bellamy, who also revealed he turned down options to move already, including to German side Wolfsburg, said: “I feel strongly that I can offer something at the club. But if I don’t get in the 25-man squad, I don’t know what I will do. I might finish, full stop, or look at every option I get. This game is as ruthless as any. I sort of feel I am not going to be part of it (at Manchester City). I can see it from a distance. I find that very difficult to take because I really enjoy playing for Manchester City. I think I have shown that with my commitment this year.”
For the record, Bellamy was Man City’s top provider last season, setting up 14 goals (eight of which came in the Premiership) while scoring 11. The Welsh international is clearly disillusioned with the fact that no matter how good a player he was last year or the year before that, Italian manager Roberto Mancini is always likely to prefer a Balotelli, a ‘big name’ and someone who is ‘his player,’ not a remnant of the Hughes era.
Giovanni Trapattoni has been appointed as the Republic of Ireland’s new manager, ending a four-month search for Steve Staunton’s successor.
The Italian will have gone a long way to forming a good relationship with Irish fans already by declaring his belief that Ireland can win a tricky group that includes Italy and Serbia. He said:
“Ireland are not a second-rate team, they are supposed to be a first-rate team. Qualifying for the World Cup in 2010 will be hard, and playing against the Italian team will make me proud, but it should be possible for Ireland to come first.”
Trapattoni managed Italy from 2000 to 2004 and brings a wealth of experience and a hugely impressive track record at club level, with six Serie A titles with Juventus and one with Inter Milan to his name. He has also won domestic club titles with Bayern Munich, Benfica and Salzburg.
“In the last two weeks I received offers from various clubs, and about 10 days ago representatives of the Football Association of Ireland approached me. I found their offer very interesting. I am very comfortable here in Salzburg. We won the Austrian title last year and we have a great chance to win the title again this year again. But the opportunity to manage the Irish team would give me a lot more time to spend with my family. My lawyers in Milan and representatives of the FAI came come to an agreement and I accepted their offer. Leaving the title as a farewell present to my Bulls is now my number one aim.”
Trapattoni will also try to bring RTE pundit Liam Brady into the new Irish set-up and he believes the Irishman can combine any post with his current job at Arsenal. Brady also played under Trapattoni at Juventus and is well-respected within the game. As the panel said at the press conference, Trapattoni is keen to bring in someone Irish to work with the team and Brady, a fluent Italian speaker, fits the bill perfectly.
“I know Liam from our mutual time at Juventus,” said Trapattoni. “I called him and asked him for his thoughts on my commitment with the FAI, and when he said it was okay, I asked him for assistance if needed. I am positive that Arsene Wenger, who is a friend of mine, will lend me Liam’s services if I called him.”