Dreams of a new beginning or another nightmare


SOCCER ANALYST:If you get it wrong against this calibre of opposition tonight it can very quickly become traumatic viewing from the dugout

MY ETERNAL optimism for Irish football endures. It may be misguided, blind loyalty even, but it’s just the way I’ve always felt since I was a kid. The first home game of a qualifying campaign and anything is still possible.

Regardless of who our coach has been over the past 50 years, the best nations have always found us tough to beat in Dublin (I was at Dalymount way back in 1965 when we did the Spanish 1-0).

After surviving the Astana fright night the players should go into this with renewed enthusiasm.

Not even the mighty Germans can dampen my optimism, but I must be realistic. They are second only to Spain in their brilliance over the last two major tournaments. In contrast, we have been awful in our last four competitive games.

They arrive with a fabulous array of attacking options but doubts about their form, after unconvincing showings against Austria and my beloved Faroes, allied to lingering internal disgruntlement ever since Mario Balotelli’s goals shocked them in the Euro semi-finals gives us something to exploit.

That is the genesis of my hope.

Now to the reality of the situation.

Having witnessed Germany sailing through their Euro group of death by beating Portugal, the Netherlands and Denmark before dismissing the usually solid Greeks 4-2, Giovanni Trapattoni has finally decided to alter his stubborn tactical mindset.

In the face of all evidence to the contrary, he stuck with 4-4-2 in Poland against superior opposition.

After the Kazakhstan game I questioned the selection process and preparation of our team under the Italian. So far this week there seems to be no misunderstandings over who has retired, with Marco Tardelli laying off on the silly Damien Duff references.

With three midfielders selected in a new formation, it is more important than ever that each player knows his specific role.

Keith Andrews, James McCarthy and Keith Fahey have the most daunting of challenges tonight against Schweinsteiger, Khedira and Ozil.

It is the delicate nuances of playing three in the middle that may catch us out. Each man’s job must have been spelt out at training this week. That is the manager’s job.

Tardelli suggested Fahey will be expected to deal with Ozil, the Germans’ most creative player, who has licence to float into space. I think Andrews is best suited to this tracking role. It is not the best part of Fahey’s game.

The sessions prior to the game provide the only opportunity to communicate how the system must operate. If you get it wrong against this calibre of opposition it can very quickly become nightmare viewing from the dugout.

Trust me, I know.

In August 2005 we played Italy in a friendly at Lansdowne Road. In my head for a long time I wanted to develop the attacking 4-3-3 formation I used so successfully with the Irish underage sides.

This was my chance to give it a go. Sadly, it failed miserably and had to be abandoned at half-time as Kevin Kilbane, Matt Holland and Stephen Reid were led on a merry dance by the brilliant Pirlo – yes, him again – De Rossi and Gattuso.

It was a Wednesday game and we only had one fully-attended session but I obviously failed to communicate my vision with the necessary clarity to my midfield trio. I didn’t deal with the Pirlo threat properly. I should have pushed a man up on him, like Xavi did in the Euro final.

Like most people, I find it hard to understand Trapattoni in interviews. Despite the hand signals and furious use of words I am often baffled by his actual meaning.

Of his training sessions, I only get glimpses of the coach running about on television clips, issuing dramatic instructions. I can’t help wondering if the players understand him or is he just doing it for show because the cameras are rolling.

If you can’t understand a fella indoors how will you have a clue what he is saying on the windy Malahide landscape? I hope the message gets across for Andrews, McCarthy and Fahey to gel. Same goes for Aiden McGeady, Simon Cox and Jonathan Walters.

Not that I agree with Walters starting as the lone striker. Even if Robbie Keane was fit, it should be Shane Long who leads the line.

His determination and mobility, as proven in the Premiership, upsets defenders.

At least we won’t be outnumbered. Our midfield trio are good on the ball if they are trusted with possession by the back four. Too often in Kazakhstan, McCarthy’s ability to control play was ignored as long balls were knocked up to Walters.

But my main concern isn’t midfield or attack. This is the first time in many a year that we go into a big game without Shay Given or our colossus Richard Dunne minding the fort.

Even the generally steady Sean St Ledger is absent. Darren O’Dea has struggled with the physicality of big centre forwards and will be under severe pressure to hold the wily old gunslinger Miroslav Klose.

My pals in the Faroes told me they got a few chances in their recent 3-0 defeat. So we will too.

A tough night lies ahead but we should have more possession than usual. The new formation won’t cure all our ills but at least our football diehards have been sated.

For everyone’s sake, I hope the instructions have been relayed with clarity this week.

No Keane, Dunne, Given, Duff or Kevin Doyle so others must stand up.

There is hope of a new beginning or maybe I’m just a dreamer.

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