Ireland look to end run of defeats against Italy

Striker Anthony Stokes latest injury victim in Martin O’Neill’s squad for friendly in London

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill has named John O’Shea captain for the friendly against Italy. Photograph: Inpho

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill has named John O’Shea captain for the friendly against Italy. Photograph: Inpho

 

Ireland’s 2-0 victory over Italy in Liege three years ago is a reminder of how unpredictable these end of season affairs can be. But a bit like the guy in the comedy disaster movie Airplane! who goes back on the fags, drink and then drugs in quick succession as the crisis deepens, it may just be that Martin O’Neill has picked the wrong time to play Italy.

After a couple of home defeats, he would, at the very least, have chosen to go into tonight’s friendly game at Craven Cottage with something closer to a full team. As it is, he revealed yesterday morning that Anthony Stokes is the latest to limp out of contention having injured his calf.

The bigger issue is Mark Wilson’s brother’s wedding which has cost the manager his three Stoke City players, with assorted injuries and another family event exacerbating a less than ideal situation.

O’Neill insists the replacements will do just fine but some small indication of their international standing was provided by Cesare Prandelli as he named his starting line up yesterday and struggled to name a single one of the peripheral Irish players in contention get a start.

As ever, the Italian coach has issues of his own to contend with, not least the need to establish whether Fiorentina’s Giuseppe Rossi can provide positive evidence of his form and fitness before Prandelli has to announce his final squad of 23.

The striker, though, won’t be the only one among Ireland’s opposition this evening with a pressing reason for wanting to do well. And so, despite having rather ruthlessly exacted their revenge upon Ireland for that friendly defeat when the two sides met at Euro 2012 the following year (Italy won 2-0), the Italians should, as John O’Shea put it yesterday, be pretty “fired up” tonight.

Level of urgency

David Forde

Paul Green, Kevin Doyle and Ciaran Clark are among the players who may well get a look in, with Séamus Coleman, Aiden McGeady and Wes Hoolahan likely to retain their places.

Doyle getting a start would be an added blow to Shane Long who, it seems, can’t quite muster enough consistency in front of goal to convince in the lead striking role. But the main focus here may be on tightening things up at the back with Rossi and co likely to make more of Ireland’s occasionally slack defending than the Turks if the opportunity arises.

“Yeah, they are going to be fully wound up,” said O’Shea, who will head home after this game, leaving Robbie Keane to captain the side against Costa Rica and Portugal. “They are playing for places in a couple of weeks for the starting 11 in the World Cup. They are going to be raring to go.”

Ultimately, there would no great shame in being beaten by a team capable of reaching the last four in Brazil which, O’Shea feels, Italy should be able to do. “They are going along very discreetly. No one is mentioning them but I think they will be very close to the semi-finals. I think the toughest part might be getting out of their group. England, Uruguay and then Costa Rica are obviously the un-fancied of the group. If Italy can get out of their group, I think they can get to the semi-finals.”

Poor run

“Ultimately it’s not good,” he acknowledged in relation to the recent defeats. “Whatever team you play against, you don’t want three defeats. But it’s a case of going into the game wanting to win it and seeing where we are after. If we lost the next four games but qualified for the Euros, what’s the problem? It’s going to be a good test. Hopefully we’ll get a bit more experience and enjoy the learning curve before the real serious stuff starts [in September].”

All perfectly reasonable as long as tonight’s “learning curve” doesn’t equate to being handed a lesson.

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