Ireland need something or it’s goodnight Vienna
But Sweden are there for the taking if Trapattoni’s men can impose their attacking game
James McClean’s pace and strength could prove vital to the Republic of Ireland cause in tonight’s World Cup qualifier against Sweden at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan
If Giovanni Trapattoni has ever considered how he might be remembered for his time with Ireland then both his side’s heroics in Paris and and their humiliation in Poland are likely to have sprung quickly to mind.
The next five days may help to tip the scales one way or the other.
Qualifying for next summer’s World Cup finals while attempting to employ a more fluent style of football might yet silence even the sternest of critics but if the idea is not to be rendered completely fanciful, even he admits, four points altogether from tonight’s game and the one in Vienna next Tuesday will be required.
Having restored Ireland’s shattered reputation for being hard to beat, he must coax more, much more, from a side that must finally come to terms with the fact that getting to Brazil is going to require that they win at least one big game.
After the last-minute shenanigans in Stockholm, Erik Hamren can be forgiven for the scepticism he expressed last night when asked if he had heard the Ireland team for tonight’s encounter with Sweden.
Trapattoni, though, had a characteristic air of certainty about him as he confirmed big calls in both defence and midfield, in the form of recalls for Richard Dunne and James McClean respectively.
Both have the potential to play key roles for the home side tonight, with Dunne, if he really is back to something approaching his best, set to lead at the back and, his manager will hope, lend a hand up front at set- pieces.
The Wigan winger’s strength and pace, meanwhile, may prove especially useful in the event that Mikael Lustig’s fitness is a factor, and Marc Wilson’s is not.
Overall, the team is again packed with fans’ favourites of the sort that largely couldn’t get a sniff until those three defeats at the European Championships sent Trapattoni scurrying back to the drawing board.
A couple endured baptisms of fire against Germany last October, but Séamus Coleman and James McCarthy have come a long way since then, while John O’Shea and Jon Walters are the only other two from that night to retain their starting places.
With the bulk of the regulars returned, Ireland’s record of five clean sheets in eight games this year has restored some of the confidence lost that traumatic evening last October, while the draw in Stockholm was a welcome reminder of just how well this team can play on its day.
This time, however, simply – if that really is a suitable term – containing Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Co will not be enough. Certainly, they must do that but the home side must also tip the balance of their game forward so as to pose more of attacking threat.
More importantly still, they must put away their chances, something they have repeatedly struggled to do when it really matters.
Shane Long’s performance in Cardiff, where happily it did not, would scarcely inspire much confidence but the hope is that, after a difficult week, the West Brom striker can benefit from the return of Robbie Keane, whose form of late should mean his confidence is sky high.