Neanderthal tactics a real cause for concern


SOCCER ANALYST:Despite Ireland’s good result, tactically this was a very worrying performance

OF COURSE at this stage it’s all about results, the closer you get to the end of the campaign the more it becomes about just getting over the finishing line, by whatever means necessary. But if, on Saturday, we were looking for a sign that this team is capable of beating Italy next month then, I didn’t see it. We got a good result, but it was a very, very worrying performance, with tactics that bordered on the Neanderthal.

I was just really taken aback by how poor it was. To beat Italy we have to play cool, calculated football, with a little bit of guile – everything that was missing against Cyprus. We lacked any real quality on the ball, in every department of the team, and just spent the night hoofing the ball forward, giving away possession time and time again.

People might compare it to the way Ireland played under Jack Charlton, but then, while it might not have been pretty to watch, there was some purpose to it all. And it was effective.

Yes, at times, the ball was lumped up to Niall (Quinn) or (Tony) Cascarino to give the team relief when the pressure was on, but more often than not it was about hitting the channels, getting the ball in behind defenders, then squeezing up.

Then, by pressurising the opposition, you’d win the ball back, and that’s when the likes of Ronnie Whelan, Ray Houghton or Andy Townsend took over. They’d get it down and play.

There was absolutely none of that on Saturday. Our back four, the full-backs in particular, were just launching it 50, 60, 70 yards, but rarely pushing up – so all they were doing was giving it away. There was no purpose to it whatsoever, other than getting the ball out of our own half.

And that was against opposition that aren’t exactly going to kill you. You can have as much huff and puff as you want at Croke Park next month but if you do that against a good team, like Italy, if you constantly give away possession, you will be punished. Severely.

It’s hard not to conclude after this that Keith Andrews and Glenn Whelan, as a combination, just aren’t good enough at this level. I know most people don’t want to hear Stephen Ireland’s name mentioned again, and I don’t blame them – but watching that game you realised that we really can’t afford to give up on him. He has everything we don’t have in midfield, what the game highlighted more than anything was just how much we need him.

But while Andrews and Whelan were hugely disappointing it’s harsh to pick on them, they are very much feeling their way in international football. I’d look more to the two full-backs as the chief source of our problems.

John O’Shea and Kevin Kilbane were desperately poor – Kilbane, especially, just wasn’t up to it. Defensively they weren’t at it, they just sat off their opponents all the way through, but it was the number of times they gave it away, just launching it forward to no-one in particular, that was frightening. Stephen Hunt was decent, he worked hard; Damien Duff tried to get the ball down and play, but like Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle up front, they basically had no service, we were too busy launching it hopelessly from the back.

If O’Shea played like that for Manchester United he wouldn’t get in the team again, so where did that performance come from?

All I can think of is that Giovanni Trapattoni looked at the pitch, which clearly wasn’t great, and figured that the players would need an extra touch every time, which would invite the Cypriots on to us. So maybe his sole concern was to get the ball out of our area, as quickly as possible.

But there are ways of doing that, and not the way we did it all night long. It was like the Luftwaffe. And it was coming from everywhere – long, hopeless balls. Neanderthal stuff.

The winning goal came from one of the few occasions we actually kept the ball for more than three or four passes and got in a decent cross.

Cyprus were just better on the ball, a superior passing team, and they at least got it down and tried to play. I was just really taken aback by our lack of quality, and was disappointed in players who I thought were better.

I can only assume Trapattoni feels this is the best we can be with the players we have, that we have severe limitations, are very average, and that his sole aim is to make us difficult to beat. But an approach like that only gets you so far.

In fairness to him the results have been decent in the group so far, and with the atmosphere there will be at Croke Park next month anything is possible. But there was absolutely nothing about Saturday’s display that would give me any confidence going in to the Italy game.