Brian Kerr: Republic of Ireland can sign off with a swansong against Kazakhstan
Noel King can concentrate on an attacking approach in a game where Ireland should have significant possession
Noel King: criticism of his tactics and team selection against Germany were ‘ludicrous’.
At last, the final game of a qualifying campaign that lacked joy, provided little good football and was weighed down with negativity towards the departed manager.
Only an extraordinary turnaround with late, late goals, the first a penalty, from Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle rescued us from ignominy in the opening game away to Kazakhstan. The omens were not good.
Almost embarrassed in Astana, we definitely were in the next game, that 6-1 defeat by Germany.
From there on, the group has been a struggle, the only result of significant value the 0-0 draw in Sweden. That game provided some promise of a change of style, but, sadly, our hopes evaporated.
In truth, while Giovanni Trapattoni attempted to revamp things after the Euro 2012 debacle, neither he nor his Italian accomplices showed the commitment or communication levels that are a basic requirement for managing any national team.
It took a long time for the penny to drop with the FAI.
The criticism aimed at Trapattoni after that 6-1 defeat was almost matched in its venom from the usual suspects towards Noel King last Friday. Ludicrous.
Anyone in touch with international football knew it was going to be a backs-to-the-wall job against the brilliant Germans, with a team that has been in disarray, suffering from poor leadership, retirements, injuries and a tactical ineptitude that was startling.
And anyone who thought we could out-pass the Germans, or achieve a narrow defeat or a draw by playing an open, attacking game, is, again, out of touch with the realities of modern international football.
While I was initially puzzled by the selection of four central midfielders and by the placing of Glenn Whelan in the right-sided role, King’s logic was proved correct as Whelan limited the effect of the raiding full-back Marcell Jansen – an area where we were destroyed when Aiden McGeady played there in the first game.
Ultimately, Andre Schurrle’s technique, pace and movement outmanoeuvred Seamus Coleman, but Whelan’s work, with some clever penetrative passes, justified his selection.
Doyle’s selection out wide was also a point of criticism, but while I have never been a fan of playing strikers in wide midfield positions, the modern formation, with just one central striker, often dictates that coaches select an additional one on the wing.
But, again, the pairing of Bayern Munich’s Thomas Mueller and Philipp Lahm, two of the world’s best in their positions, proved too much for Stephen Kelly and Doyle, now plying their trade in the second and third tiers of English football. And I don’t believe the alternatives available to King would have done a lot better.
At least now, the coach can concentrate on a more attacking approach to a game in which, surely, we will have significant possession.
Assuming John O’Shea and Richard Dunne return to the centre of defence, with Marc Wilson going to left-back, the opportunity will be there for Coleman to get in more advanced positions. This solid-looking four should be capable of dealing with any threat from Shakhter Karagandy pair Sergei Khizhnichenko and Andrei Finonchenko.
King’s experience in the international game at under-21 level has persuaded him that a 4-2-3-1 formation gives the required defensive cover and creative options to be effective against most opposition.
A pairing of James McCarthy and Darron Gibson would provide control and passing potential to dictate the game against a Kazakh team that was outplayed throughout the second half in their 1-1 draw away to the Faroe Islands on Friday.
With Shane Long or Doyle as the main front man, the coach could pick Andy Reid on the left, Robbie Keane as the supporting striker and either McGeady or James McClean on the right.
Reid may be just ahead of Wes Hoolahan in the pecking order and can provide guile and delivery from the flank. But maybe Anthony Stokes deserves another chance?
Patience should see us control tonight’s game. I would be confident of a good performance and victory. The honest and considered efforts of King deserve that reward.
While many soccer fans may be depressed by our exit from the World Cup, for St Patrick’s Athletic supporters, like myself, it’s been an excellent season. King would have enjoyed the passion and style of their great victory over Sligo Rovers yesterday when they clinched the title .
So much for the league Trap said did not exist.
Congratulations are in order to Liam Buckley, Garrett Kelleher and all who sail along with the Saints. A brilliant day shone through a dark international season.
Let’s hope the new man takes a bit more interest in what’s going on in our league.
Even the Dutch weekend visitors I met at the game were impressed. Our manager should be too.