Wales friendly a chance to audition for Ireland’s big stage
Westwood, Clark and Hoolahan can all force their way into manager’s qualification plans
Republic of Ireland’s Wes Hoolahan (centre) during a training session at the Cardiff City Stadium. The Norwich man will play behind Shane Long tonight. Photograph: David Davies/PA Wire.
With fine-tuning to be in done in every area of the pitch ahead of next month’s World Cup qualifiers, Giovanni Trapattoni seemed enthusiastic enough about Ireland’s friendly in Cardiff last night.
The closest thing to a surprise in his team for this evening is Robbie Brady rather than James McClean starting on the left of midfield. But the performances of Ciarán Clark, Keiren Westwood and, to a lesser extent, Wes Hoolahan all have the potential to affect his selections for the bigger games.
The Italian said more than once that he would take time to reflect on this evening’s encounter before deciding how best to tackle the Swedes in Dublin. Asked straight out, though, whether Hoolahan and Shane Long might do enough between them to displace Robbie Keane he started his answer with an emphatic “no”.
The recent form of Wales certainly offers hope that the Irish pair might enjoy a profitable evening. Chris Coleman’s side currently lie fourth in their World Cup qualifying group and a long way off the top two.
In the circumstances, Trapattoni has opted for a 4-4-1-1 with Brady on the left because, he says, he is more creative than the newly signed Wigan winger. Hoolahan will play behind Long with Jon Walters on the other flank. It is, says the manager, the formation he hopes to employ against the Swedes and Austrians although the personnel may be significantly changed if his optimism regarding the fitness of David Forde and Sean St Ledger proves to be well founded.
It would be nice, in particular, if Clark could provide evidence that he is growing into his role because he looks increasingly likely to have a major part to play in the remainder of this qualification campaign.
The Aston Villa defender will not have to concern himself with Gareth Bale or Aaron Ramsey, both of whom are absent this evening but Marc Wilson should face an interesting test in the form of Craig Bellamy.
Glenn Whelan and James McCarthy could be up against it in the centre of midfield where they will face Joe Allen, Joe Ledley and Jonathan Williams. Trapattoni talked yesterday about the need for his men to record another good result but he might settle for strong performances from his younger players and a dominant one from a central midfield that, though, much improved by James McCarthy, rarely really takes a firm grip on games.
His press conference was a low-key affair, very different to the one that Coleman had endured which focused almost exclusively on the Bale saga.
Helpfully, an Irish journalist provided a diversion by asking him about Keiren Westwood who he signed for Coventry from Carlisle five years ago. Coleman was positive about the goalkeeper, insisting he always saw him as destined for the Premier League, before pointedly describing the now Sunderland player as “a confident boy”.
Around this point the locals had enough and changed the subject back to Bale who, as it happens was sitting in the hotel’s bar restaurant looking unfussed.
Instead, Coleman got to answer more about Bale after which Wales skipper Ashley Williams was asked about the Spurs star too. The pity is that such interest might have significantly boosted tonight’s attendance, which is expected to be well short of 10,000, if only Bale was involved. Appropriately enough, given the story that has overshadowed the game, the stadium where it will be played is in a retail park.
WALES: Hennessey (Wolves), Gunter (Reading), Ricketts (Wolves), Williams (Swansea), Davies (Swansea); Bellamy (Cardiff City), Allen (Liverpool), Williams (Crystal Palace), Ledley (Celtic), Robson-Kanu (Reading); Vokes (Burnley).
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Westwood (Sunderland); Coleman (Everton), Clark (Aston Villa), O’Shea (Sunderland), Wilson (Stoke); Walters (Stoke), McCarthy (Wigan), Whelan (Stoke), Brady (Hull); Hoolahan (Norwich); Long (West Brom).
Referee: P Kralovec (Czech Republic).