Trapattoni’s last chance to engineer something worth shouting about

Keane insists there will be no surrender in Vienna but odds stacked against Ireland


“We’ll rip them apart” runs the headline on an ad for a local bookmakers in the Austrian football federation’s official magazine and while few would bet the farm on that, the odds on the Republic of Ireland securing the win required to keep alive the team’s fading hopes of a place at the finals must be pretty long at this stage.

Robbie Keane insisted at last night’s press conference there will be no surrender on the players’ part and the Ireland skipper got a little feisty about the widespread criticism of the team’s tactics, essentially describing it as “crap” and insisting there never has been “a Plan B” in his time on the scene.

Unduly worry
Really, though, there was little from the Irish top table to unduly worry hosts who are themselves anxiously trying to play themselves into contention for a play-off spot, not in the team at least, which, predictably, includes Paul Green for the injured Glenn Whelan and, less so perhaps, Anthony Pilkington for James McClean.

Both sides will know the outcome of Sweden’s game against Kazakhstan in Astana before taking to the pitch and, deep down, both must expect to be disappointed by the result.

As he targetted a win, Giovanni Trapattoni, stuck to the line that anything can happen in football and so he should but, in reality, Ireland’s results have been almost as predictable as their approach in recent years and there’s nothing much, certainly not our dismal record against these opponents down the years, to point to a win here.

Trapattoni’s opposite number, Marcel Koller, had claimed earlier in the day Ireland were favourites by virtue of their superior Fifa ranking but the teams’ respective positions could well be reversed in the event of a home win, with the Irish slipping out of world’s top 50 and Austria replacing them in the low forties.This would only make things more difficult the next time around.

That all said, the Austrians are a work in progress and far from the finished article. They score goals but concede them regularly too and if the Irish can just keep their heads for the 90 minutes this time there should be chances to score.

The highly-talented and versatile David Alaba is a key figure for the locals and wherever he plays his ability is sure be a concern for Trapattoni as he tries to map out a route to victory.

The feeling here yesterday was he might start in the space between his team’s midfield and attack, though, and if that’s the case then the Italian may be especially alarmed for the Irish will have to do rather better at dealing with him there than they did when Zlatan Ibrahimovic occupied much the same area to devastating effect on Friday night.

In players like Martin Harnik and Andreas Weimann, the Austrians have players who can hurt the Irish back four and there may be some relief that Zlatko Januzovic misses out through injury, while Veli Kavlak is a doubt with a broken nose.

More than usually can be said, however, this game is about us rather than them from an Irish perspective.

Even a favourable combination of results today would leave Trapattoni’s men needing more than their share of luck over the remaining games but the players, and their manager, can restore some pride with the sort of performance that needing to win in Paris, seemed to inspire them.

Pilkington, the manager says, can be a “beautiful surprise” and we have certainly waited long enough for one of those.

Trapattoni, though, also claims the team played well against Sweden and after their second-half display, none of the players have been rushing to echo that.

Dramatic improvement
They have to know, as just about everyone of them who has spoken since has suggested they do, that in every area of the pitch dramatic improvement is required.

Caught badly for Sweden’s first goal and then hobbled by the first-half booking he got for fouling Ibrahimovic, Richard Dunne needs to impose himself, if he still can, on capable opponents playing on a big stage.

There will be the usual criticism of Green’s inclusion but the 30-year-old did do well in Stockholm and will justify his selection if he can help to provide a solid base in central midfielder that allows those around him to shine.

Another one to disappoint on Friday, James McCarthy needs to play a far bigger role in influencing the pace and pattern of things.

Green’s more important contribution may be to coax more out of full backs who will surely have to play a key attacking role if Ireland are to have any serious chance of winning tonight.

If Austria’s wide men are put on the back foot then Keane has a half chance of seeing some service and Shane Long may get to do more than hurl himself at high balls and race down blind alleys.

If it were all so easy, of course, this Irish team would, regardless of who the manager is, have done it long before now but surely it can’t be be as difficult as they too often seem to make out.

Very last chance
For this manager, though, it might be the very last chance to engineer something a little special. Too little too late, some might say, but better late than never.

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