Noel King to sign off with victory over Kazakhstan
Robbie Keane looks set to return to side for final game of a troubled World Cup qualifying campaign
The Republic of Ireland squad get the feel of the Aviva Stadium before last night’s training session. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Noel King suggested on Sunday that his side had provided a wake-up call for the Germans who will, he said, know after Friday that there are problems to be addressed at the back ahead of the World Cup.
Kazakhstan, it might be remembered, provided a sort of similar service in reverse to Ireland, a year ago, by showing that it wasn’t the cream of Europe that Giovanni Trapattoni’s side could be terrible against. As it happens, though, the lesson on that occasion was obscured by two late goals that turned the night’s proceedings largely on its head.
Ireland’s interim manager says he wouldn’t have swapped that crack at the three times world champions for anything but the prospect of merely having to engineer some improvement against a side ranked 132 in the world is likely to hold an appeal of its own as the Dubliner contemplates what will most likely be his last game in the job. The only downside being that, if it proves beyond him, the TV pundits will be the least of his problems this time.
The 57-year-old reiterated his intention last night to start with the same basic formation but was less certain about the shift in emphasis that everybody will be expecting. “If we have to defend,” he said, “we won’t be embarrassed to.”
That much is fair enough; it is hard to think of an Irish home game that has passed without a spell in which Ireland found themselves on the back foot, but the extent to which he seemed to accept that the Kazakhs might dictate the pattern of the game – as they did for long stretches in Astana where they might have had another goal or two – wasn’t exactly inspiring.
As it happens, the Kazakhs seem to be aiming no higher than defending well themselves. Nobody could blame them, of course, if that really is the limit of their ambitions, for a point here, to go with the one they earned at home to Austria and the four they took from the Faroe Islands, would represent a decent haul. It might not, however, do much to generate the “glorious” and “joyous” occasion they appear to have arrived expecting.
King’s responsibility will involve contributing on that front by giving home fans (however many that will be) something to cheer about and that’s likely to mean a significantly changed side to the one that played all 90 minutes on Friday night.
Robbie Keane looks set to return up front after training again last night and there should be a wider reshuffle behind him even if the manager avoided any specifics, perhaps because he has still, once again, to settle on a few of them.