11 October ~ Giovanni Trapattoni's time in charge of the Republic of Ireland to date has been characterised by a mixture of dire football and decent results. His single-mindedness has given the team a clear identity, a coherent style and a discipline rarely seen in Irish sides. However, his reign has also seen the team accused of playing negative football, of not seizing opportunities and of valuing work ethic at the expense of invention. In many ways, tonight's opponents Armenia could be the perfect side to expose the weaknesses in Trappatoni's gameplan.

Having beaten Andorra 3-0, fellow play-off chasers Slovakia 4-0 and John Toshack's Macedonia 4-1, Armenia come to play in Dublin in red-hot form. Even local reports of the squad being offered a €3 million (£2.6m) qualification bonus as an incentive can't explain the upturn in their performances since the start of the campaign, when a Keith Fahey goal gave Ireland a win in Yerevan. Yura Movsisyan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who is listed as doubtful for tonight's game, have shot to prominence as the key figures in a fast, adventurous and precise team, one more than capable of finding the same holes in the Republic's rigid defensive lines that Russia had such fun with.

What's more is that Ireland will have to face them without Robbie Keane, who has been replaced by West Brom striker Simon Cox due to injury. Shane Long, arguably Ireland's form striker over the past year, was the more obvious replacement for the captain and his presence brings a greater dynamism and urgency to the side. However, the suggestion is that Trapattoni believes that Cox fits the system better than Long – regardless of a player's personal attributes, the system is king. Left-back Stephen Ward will also miss the game after picking up a yellow card for diving while his team were two goals up against Andorra.

For the Republic and their manager, this is the biggest game since the World Cup play-off match in Paris in 2009. The squad's greatest achievement and failure took place on that night as they succeeded in setting a high tempo and aggressively attacking a failing French side. That performance proved no precursor to the current campaign, however, as Ireland seem unable to cope with any fast interplay that the Russian or Slovakians conjured up, preferring instead to fall back behind the ball in rigid formation and wait for whatever breaks came their way.

Too often, the Irish team have been left looking to Richard Dunne and Shay Given for yet another evening of heroic blocks and general team-carrying. For players such as Dunne, Given, Keane and Damien Duff, time is running out and for some this could represent the last chance of playing at a major tournament. A draw would see Ireland progress and the temptation for such a conservative manager must be to aim for one. It would be a dangerous game to play. These are the defining weeks of the Trapattoni era – those that decide whether his reign will be remembered as the period that steadied the ship and restored organisation and pride after the Staunton debacle, or as a late explosion of success in several great international careers. Aidan Bonner

Comments (8)
Comment by Zorg the Leveller 2011-10-11 11:50:14

Good piece, looking forward to the game, but would question the assertion in the final paragraph. I note that you have separate the "time running out for Duff, Dunne, Given, Keane" from "could represent last chance of playing in a major tournament", but it's worth pointing out that all four played in the World Cup in 2002 so "another" major tournament. These being the four elder statesmen of the squad, they're really the only central characters who might not be around for 2014. John O'Shea and Damien Delaney, the next oldest players, will only be 33 in 2014.

Comment by Paulizei 2011-10-11 12:37:43


Thanks for the reply.

Yes, I am well aware that Duff, Dunne, Given and Keane were in the squad for 2002 (though unfortunately Dunne didn't actually get on the pitch) and, yes, "another major tournament" may have been a clearer choice of wording, but the sentence's meaning is the same.

"...this could represent the last chance of playing at a major tournament" doesn't imply that the players in question haven't played at one before, just that this could be their last chance to do so - or in Dunne & O'Shea's case, only chance.

While I think that there is a chance that we'll see some retirements, there's an even greater chance that there'll be a slight re-building period. Depends on the next boss of course.

Comment by Paulizei 2011-10-11 12:38:39

Oh, and for any Ireland fans reading, just a reminder that the game kicks off at the surprisingly early 18:45, so you'll have to wrap up work quickly today!

Comment by jameswba 2011-10-11 13:09:53

Interesting preview of what should be an interesting game. I live in Zilina, where Armenia thrashed Slovakia 4-0 last month, and keep telling anybody who's interested (and anybody who isn't) just how good Armenia were in that game. They were really, really good. Kudos to Slovak coach Vlado Weiss too, 'cause he was saying a year back that Armenia played the best football in Group B. A few more people are coming round to that view now than were prepared to listen then.

Ireland's qualities are rather different but shouldn't be underestimated and my feeling is they'll just about do what's needed to get the draw.

On the other hand, you might be right with this ; 'In many ways, tonight's opponents Armenia could be the perfect side to expose the weaknesses in Trappatoni's gameplan.'

Comment by Diable Rouge 2011-10-11 14:55:12

Oh, and for any Ireland fans reading, just a reminder that the game kicks off at the surprisingly early 18:45, so you'll have to wrap up work quickly today!

All three group matches have to be played simultaneously, so Russia-Andorra would kick off at 21:45 Moscow time. Dunne's return should be the key tonight, but given that only victory will guarantee Ireland top-seeding tomorrow, we must hope that Trapattoni's conservative preference for catenaccio doesn't stifle tonight. The Whelan-Andrews partnership doesn't convince, with James McCarthy offering more offensive potential, and it was only in Stade de France that the squad were released from the system's inhibitions.

Comment by jonmid 2011-10-11 21:54:48

Well Ireland are in the play offs

Comment by JimDavis 2011-10-12 14:48:16

Good to see Dunne bundle a ball into the right net for a change!

Comment by Darren 2011-10-12 20:57:26

So Cox ended up being MOTM; I never expected Long to start, as he's too similar to Doyle.

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