Trapattoni asks players for 'a little bit extra'
SOCCER: REPUBLIC OF IRELAND v FRANCE: AT THIS stage, it’s beginning to border on being impolite, but there has been further evidence from the French media over the past couple of days that it’s not Richard Dunne or Kevin Doyle who they see as the most potent threat to their chances of being at next summer’s World Cup but rather their own coach, Raymond Domenech.
Cranking up things a little in the newspaper’s simmering feud with the 57-year-old, L’Équiperan two related page headlines in its most recent issues. In the first, over a picture of the manager walking past Irish players, the headline read: “Their good luck . . . him!” Then, yesterday, they ran with a picture of Thierry Henry and Nicolas Anelka and the words: “Our good luck . . . them!”
It would be wonderful to think that a combination of Domenech and the disunity he has supposedly wrought within this French squad might be enough to see the Irish to South Africa next summer. As Giovanni Trapattoni coolly observed yesterday, however, neither of the coaches will be on the pitch and it is there the Irish players will somehow have to find a way of containing more technically gifted opponents while, ideally, finding a way of scoring themselves.
The best route to an Irish goal is, of course, another set- piece, with the likes of Damien Duff and Robbie Keane well able to win free kicks, while Duff, Glenn Whelan and, if he plays, Liam Lawrence, all capable of posing the French back four problems subsequently from positions around the area.
What looks to be the four first-choice French defenders all go into the game carrying a booking which may play on their minds just a little as they go about their business, while Doyle’s pace and strength combined with Keane’s movement, particularly his darting runs into the area from deep-lying positions, have the potential to cause the visitors, especially the slightly erratic Eric Abidal, some difficulties.
Trapattoni was diplomatic about it all but did end up querying the wisdom of his opposite number’s tactical approach, a 4-2-3-1 in the style of Chelsea under Jose Mourinho or Portugal during the “Big Phil” Scolari years.
“In Italy, we have three or four teams that play this way, but not in France.”
His own formation, needless to say, remains unaltered and the team he came close to finalising yesterday is precisely as had been expected in 10 of the 11 starting positions, with the manager leaving a final call on the right side of midfield – between Lawrence and Aiden McGeady – until today.
Even that hint of indecision may be an indication of just how big a challenge these games will be for the 70-year-old and his players.
“For us,” he acknowledged, “it’s already like the final of the World Cup – qualification or not.”
With that in mind, he observed, the Irish players will have to give “a little bit extra” if they are to build on the improvement achieved over the course of the campaign to date and actually get the better of a big team.
“We can’t be stuck up because we were one of five teams not to lose in the qualifying games, but we must take encouragement from that fact and then add something more for this game.”
The something he has in mind is likely to be the centre of the Irish defence which has had a habit of allowing its collective concentration to slip just long enough to undo a great deal of their otherwise good work. If the weather forecast is right then conditions are likely to be tricky at Croke Park this evening, something that should count against the French a little more than it does against the Irish, but it might also make things that little more unpredictable around the home side’s area and that is not a prospect the Italian is likely to relish.
Another aspect of its game that the home side desperately needs to improve this evening is its ball retention around midfield.
Surrendering possession to this French side as regularly as they have handed the ball to teams with much less gifted forwards over the past year or two would be to invite a good deal of trouble.
As it is, the team will again have to cope with Youann Gourcuff occupying much the same area between Ireland’s defence and midfield that Tim Cahill and Andrea Pirlo did to such damaging effect in the recent games against Australia and Italy.
The Ireland manager shrugged off the suggestion yesterday that he might change things to counter the threat, insisting that he prefers to stick with the two-man central midfield, but even if he did there is plenty more to worry about in the French armoury.
André-Pierre Gignac has scored four goals in eight internationals and although most of them have come against the Faroe Islands, he is the sort of player who will provide the visitors with a menacing presence around the box while Henry and Anelka roam forward at angles from the flanks.
Trapattoni said yesterday that he does not think the Toulouse striker will start, with the Italian believing Domenech will prefer to have Anelka lead the team’s charge away from home, with Sidney Govou slotting in on the right.
It is distinctly possible he is right, although it is not the generally held view of what will happen by the French media.
They, Domenech might suggest with satisfaction, are not always entirely on top of things as was evidenced on Thursday when former French international turned radio show host Luis Fernandez, a fierce critic of the manager, interviewed Liam Brady on his show Luis attacks!
Brady breezed through the whole thing and was just about to depart the airwaves when Fernandez politely asked if he intended to head along to the game this evening, prompting a slightly exasperated Brady to reveal his role in the Irish management team.
Here’s hoping that the rest of Domenech’s critics are a little closer to the mark in relation to their own coach.