King mulls selection as Keane struggles with injury
Stokes, Doyle and Long the candidates to start if striker fails to recover in time
Already missing his two most experienced players for tonight’s game against Germany due to suspension, Noel King looks set to be without his skipper due to injury at the Rhein Energy Stadium tonight in Cologne with Robbie Keane struggling to overcome an ankle injury he picked up while training earlier this week.
The manager said that the striker had skipped training last night “as a precaution” and that the association’s medical staff will be working on him again this morning but the 57-year-old didn’t sound at all optimistic regarding the Dubliner’s prospects of featuring even as he insisted that he still “has a chance”.
King said that Anthony Stokes, Kevin Doyle and Shane Long are the candidates to replace Keane in the event that he misses out but with the rest of his team not yet finalised he said that he has not decided who it would be.
‘Working on an idea’
“I’m working on an idea in my head,” he said at last night’s press pre-match conference which was also attended by Damien Delaney, “but I don’t have to name the team so I won’t. I think I have 10 of the players and a couple in mind for the other place and now the Robbie thing has given me something else to think about.”
Normally the player attending on these occasions would be the one pencilled in to captain the side and while there is little prospect of Delaney getting that honour on what would be his eighth cap but only his first competitive appearance, his involvement here was generally taken as a sign that he will get to start.
The Corkman would certainly write himself into Irish football’s folklore if he played a part in the team getting a result here. The omens are not great; Germany have played 22 times here, including once before against Ireland, and only lost once – against Spain in 1935 – while their form in this group has been formidable as they illustrated rather vividly while scoring six – as many as they had in the previous six meetings between the sides – in Dublin this time last year. About the most positive thing the travelling fans can point to is the fact that the last time they encountered tonight’s Belgian referee, they got to watch an unlikely victory over Italy in rainy Liege.
A home victory tonight would ensure top spot in Group C for Joachim Löw’s side and while it would be guaranteed in any case in the event that their opponents next Tuesday, Sweden, fail to beat Austria this evening, both the manager and his players have made it clear that they not inclined to rely on favours from others. “I think we can be self-assured enough that it will be down to us,” said Sami Khedira earlier in the day. “We want to score many goals but they (Ireland) will have many tricks and needles to upset us and maybe even score. It will be a test for us to give it all to come away as winners.”
It’s a test few locals expect them to fail with Lothar Matthaus suggesting this week that this team is better than the one he captained to the World Cup title in 1990. Precisely how Ireland intend to pull the rug from under them will become a little bit clearer when King names his side in the run up to kick off. There is certainly no shortage of big calls to be made with both his line up and formation still the subject of considerable speculation last night.
Richard Dunne and John O’Shea are, of course, missing and if Delaney does play then the only real question at the back appears to be whether Marc Wilson or Joey O’Brien starts at left back with the former only likely to miss out in the event that he is being redeployed into central midfield where he is now playing his club football.
If that happens then Glenn Whelan’s place must be under severe pressure as Darron Gibson and James McCarthy are both expected, though not certain, to start in what will most likely be a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation. The intention will be to defend and hit Germany on the break but falling back too far will completely undermine the side’s ability to provide any support to the lone striker and avoiding the trap will be challenging indeed.
Stokes had looked highly likely to play on the right when Keane seemed more likely to start but that, like quite a few other things, is now a little bit up in the air.
Big role tonight
King rates the 25-year-old highly and despite him having only played 10 minutes of competitive international football – against San Marino way back in February 2007 – he is likely to be given a big role tonight. If it is on the right then Long looks the most likely candidate for the lone striker’s role by virtue of the fact that he is playing regular top flight football while Anthony Pilkington might just pip Aiden McGeady to the spot on the other side.
If they all rise sufficiently to the occasion to deny the Germans the victory they expect, never mind actually grabbing the one King insists he is aiming for, then it will be quite something. Deep down, though, he and they must feel that the bottom line is emerging from this game with more pride than they did 12 months ago.