Ireland not frozen out yet, insists Trapattoni
Ireland manager believes qualification for World Cup still achievable despite disappointment against Austria
Most of us need a good lie down after watching Ireland produce the sort of performance that resulted in Tuesday’s 2-2 draw with Austria but Giovanni Trapattoni arrived for yesterday’s press conference, as he always does, having forsaken rest in order to be better equipped to assuage our doubts.
“I have watched the game again,” announced the 74 year-old as he kicked the proceedings at team sponsor 3’s head quarters off, “and it confirmed to me what I knew last night: we could have won the game.”
This, as it happens, did not come as a particular revelation to any of those who had settled for skipping the rerun – in fact, the feeling that the home side had played well enough for long enough to make the game safe only to blow it all at the end was central to the general mood of dissatisfaction around the place. Still, his claim that Ireland had hit the post twice and crossbar once clearly did suggest that things looked better on second viewing.
In any case, his basic message was clear enough with the Italian observing that it is only the halfway point in the campaign, his team remains firmly in the hunt for second place and though his players are not what they might be, they continue to improve.
“I said before the game that we would try everything to win,” he said. “We did and we had the chance to. If there had been two minutes less in the game then the analysis would have been completely different.
“In the end, we conceded just one shot, one shot from outside the area, one that took a deflection. We have to remember that we lost to a 92nd minute deflection. It might have been very different but I know your (the journalists’) job and now it is very easy.”
A manager’s one would, of course, be a good deal easier too if they could retrospectively erase solitary mistakes or have even a few seconds less of added time played when required. The point, it was gently put to him, was that Ireland had essentially ended up setting out their stall to defend a single goal lead and had, not for the first time, proved incapable of pulling it off.
The two changes he had made, it was contended, had done nothing to halt the team’s gradual retreat on to the back foot, a third might have passed a few more seconds and while individual errors had contributed heavily to both of the goals conceded, his own decisions (leaving Glenn Whelan and Conor Sammon on the pitch, taking Shane Long off, playing Paul Green on the right or, inevitably, failing to play either Kevin Doyle or, especially, Wes Hoolahan at all) had all played their part too.
Trapattoni countered that the real problem had been the team’s collective inexperience. Not Ciaran Clark’s when he blundered on the ball to gift the Austrians their first goal, nor Sammon’s late on when he seemed to be increasingly in the shadows and contributing little to the relief effort, nor even James McClean’s at the death when, along with Jon Walters, he contributed to Ireland’s late downfall by quickly taking a free that really should have been mulled over a little more.
“I told him (Clark), when you can play, play, but when you are under pressure close your eyes and shoot over there,” said the manager in relation to the first example while Sammon, he believed, was doing enough to stay on the pitch rather than, as many supporters would have preferred, be replaced by a player like Hoolahan who might have brought more composure to things and enabled Ireland to start playing a little further up the field again.
In relation to the team’s occasionally inept approach to winning and taking frees, the manager lamented the absence of a player who was a master in the area: “If Damien Duff had been there, he would have got the ball, won the free and passed the time.” Another 'if' to add to the list.
Ultimately, he remarked, “I have a beautiful job but part of it is to take on my shoulders the responsibility for the mistakes of others,” although he might have emerged with a little more credit on this occasion had he owned up to one or two of his own.
Instead, his focus was firmly on the future with the next game, against the Faroes in Dublin, expected to produce a victory and friendlies in London, Dublin, the United States and Wales all intended to help further integrate those who have come into the team recently and allow for the addition of further new faces; most obviously Anthony Pilkington.
Then it will be time for part two of the rumble to be runner-up with the critically important reverse fixtures against Sweden and Austria in September.
Asked bluntly if the team can qualify, he replied: “Finish first before Germany? No. But against Sweden and Austria we have played only 45 minutes; now we start the second round. Can we still finish above these teams? Why not?”
It was tempting to start citing some of the mishaps that befell the team on Tuesday in reply but hey, he’d seen the game again and apparently all is well.