Trap is not for turning
SOCCER:IN WHAT might be regarded as the football equivalent of that old Margaret Thatcher line about “the lady’s not for turning”, Giovanni Trapattoni last night revealed that he will revert to the Ireland team that started against Croatia for this evening’s encounter with Italy.
By sticking so firmly to his guns after two desperately disappointing performances that have left Ireland with nothing but pride to play for in Poznan, the Italian has left little doubt about how little time he has for either his critics or, it seems, the squad’s second string.
He repeatedly remarked yesterday that his selection had been primarily influenced by “respect for the players who have achieved this qualification”.
His situation is undoubtedly complicated to some extent by the importance of the game to Italy, who need not only to win but for the group’s other game not to end in a high-scoring draw, just as they did eight years ago in Portugal when Trapattoni was in charge.
On that occasion, the Italians won 5-0 but exited because Sweden and Denmark drew 2-2. The same would happen this time if both scorelines were repeated, although it gets more interesting if the match between Spain and Croatia finishes with the sides tied on a goal apiece. In that instance, all three teams would be inseparable in terms of their games against each other and a 3-0 win would get Italy through ahead of Croatia on goal difference in the wider group, while 3-1 would mean qualifying at the expense of the Croats on the highly unsatisfactory basis of the Uefa co-efficient ranking table.
Somewhat inevitably, the Italians are preoccupied with the idea of being victims of a biscotto.
Having applauded the arrival of a manager who has become a lot more popular at home since he actually stopped managing the national team there and moved abroad, the country’s media asked one question after another at last night’s pre-match about the prospect of the night’s other game ending in a result that might render a win over Ireland meaningless.
The Ireland manager said such a scenario was “unlikely”, but did not rule it out entirely and said the authorities have to vigilant. In the circumstances, he has made clear, however, he does not want to be seen to be helping the Italians achieve their end of the qualification equation by fielding a “weakened” team, although it seemed to be pretty much taken for granted among his country’s media that Italy can win regardless of what side the 73-year-old puts out.
Trapattoni did little to try to change the tone of the exchange, observing only that while the game “is no longer decisive for us, it is about our honour and the honour of our nation”.
Taking Italy out of the competition by earning at least a point against them would indeed mitigate the embarrassment of conceding seven goals in the team’s two games so far.
However, another hefty defeat would further dent morale and, perhaps, more seriously undermine Trapattoni’s authority.