Big game places up for grabs
Republic of Ireland v OmanGIOVANNI TRAPATTONI suggested that at least one of this evening’s starters at Craven Cottage is playing for his place against Germany next month, with the Italian saying that: “I have an idea that I want to look at”.
A little over three years ago Sean St Ledger played his way straight into the Italian’s team for the World Cup qualifier in Sofia a week later and the 73-year-old appears to be handing the same opportunity to audition for a specific role to some of tonight’s starting line-up. Although he didn’t confirm where he sees the vacancy as existing in his current starting eleven.
Predictably enough, Trapattoni was positive about many of the players he is bringing into an Ireland side which will have just one survivor at the outset (James McCarthy) from Friday’s narrow win in Astana.
His remarks regarding Robbie Brady’s confidence and ability, Séamus Coleman’s potential to develop into an important right back and Stephen Ward’s “needless” concession of the free-kick that led to Kazakhstan’s goal at the weekend, suggested the first two and Marc Wilson may be the three most likely candidates to emerge as significant winners from what promises to be a generally insignificant encounter with Oman. So insignificant, in fact,only around 7,000 are expected to attend.
The Gulf state are currently ranked just inside the world’s top 100, at 93 which, says French manager Paul Le Guen, is a fair reflection of where they are “at the moment”.
Only one of their players, Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi, plays in a major European league, with most of the squad playing at home and a handful at clubs in the stronger neighbouring leagues of the likes of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar.
Trapattoni will be wary of his side losing to opponents ranked so far below Ireland and insisted yesterday that even such a dramatically changed line-up can turn in a better performance than the one Ireland managed in their opening World Cup qualifier.
Critically, though, he seems to be pondering ways of improving Ireland’s play out wide ahead of a game against a side whose wingers played a major role in getting them to the semi-finals of the European Championships.
Trapattoni again denied the decision not to start James McClean had anything to do with the Northerner’s tweeting actions in Astana. He said, in any case, the winger will feature during the second half.
McClean, one suspects, will handle any disappointment he feels more discretely than on Friday night but the manager did find himself having to address the issue of another player who is feeling just now.
“I have to be honest and say I have no idea what is happening for me with Ireland because the manager and his staff seemed very keen to get me on board at the start and now nothing seems to be happening for me,” said Ciarán Clark in an ESPN interview that was widely circulated yesterday.
“There are not too many Irish centre backs playing in the Premier League at the moment, so you would think that would stand me in good stead, but the manager is picking other people at the moment and I have no idea what I need to do to get back in.
“I haven’t spoken to the manager or any of his staff about what I need to do to catch their eye or anything like that, so all I can do is continue to work hard at Villa and hopefully the situation improves for me with Ireland,” he says.
“I missed out on selection for Euro 2012 and then the manager picked some new players for the friendly last month and I wasn’t involved in that either, which was obviously disappointing, but I have to believe my chance will come if I continue to work hard with Villa.
“With some of the more experienced players calling time on their international careers and a few new lads getting chances, it gives me hope that I could get in the mix if we qualify for the World Cup finals in a couple of years time.”
Trapattoni simply insisted he is happy with what he has just now but said that he continues to monitor the 22-year-old’s form for his club. “In the past he was injured but now he plays and it is good that he plays in many different positions but we have good players and unfortunately we can only play 11 at a time.”
As is so often the case, meanwhile, Trapattoni has crossed swords before with tonight’s opposing manager, with Le Guen having been in charge of Paris St Germain when the Italian was at Bayern Munich.
“I’m really respectful of such a career, he is a man who has succeeded at great clubs like Juventus and Bayern and it’s not over for him yet,” said the Frenchman good-naturedly but, he pointed out: “I won”.
The 48 year-old was a hot property after winning three consecutive French titles at Lyon before a short, ill-fated spell at Rangers a few seasons set him back. At one stage he was rumoured to be a contender for the Ireland job and said yesterday that while there had been some enquiries he remains unsure to this day whether they were genuine.
“In football, though, you never know,” he said before adding with a laugh, “so see you soon perhaps.”
Republic of Ireland (4-4-2)
David Forde (Millwall)
Seamus Coleman (Everton)
Stephen Kelly (Fulham)
Paul McShane (Hull City)
Marc Wilson (Stoke)
Robbie Brady (Manchester Utd)
James McCarthy (Wigan Ath)
David Meyler (Sunderland)
Andy Keogh (Millwall)
Shane Long (West Brom)
Kevin Doyle (Wolves, capt).