Republic of Ireland v Germany, 7.45pm
12 October ~ With just one defeat in their previous 21 qualifier group games under Giovanni Trapattoni, one might think that the Republic of Ireland fans would be looking forward to the visit of Germany. However, the previous game was a fortuitous win away against Kazakhstan and that followed the worst performance of any team at the European Championship. It means hope is in short supply ahead of tonight’s game at the Aviva Stadium. Ireland are rated an almost-unheard-of 13/2 with the bookmakers to win at home.
Throughout Trapattoni's reign the fans have been roughly split into two groups. There are those that see him as a pragmatist who makes the most of what he has, knowing that Ireland will rarely play opponents off the field. Then there are those – led by TV pundit Eamon Dunphy – who feel that success and good football are not mutually exclusive but that the Italian is too suspicious of creative players.
The general mood fluctuated in the summer. Qualification brought greater acceptance of Trapattoni's methods but the losses to Croatia, Spain and Italy signalled more dissent, while the smash-and-grab in Astana didn't help to quieten critics. Trapattoni has done little to curry favour, seemingly falling out with one player per international break; Shane Long is the latest to feel his cold shoulder. Assistant Marco Tardelli does not help matters. Last month he made a ham-fisted attempt through the press to get Damien Duff to reconsider his retirement, while this week he told the media that Robbie Keane's injury was the result of a Paul McShane tackle, only to later claim he was joking.
It says much that the injury to captain and record scorer Keane is seen as a blessing in disguise even if it is Jon Walters, rather than the popular Long, who will lead the line. None of Keane, Duff, Richard Dunne or Shay Given are involved for the first time in over a decade. Another big change is that Trapattoni, for whom playing strikers as wide midfielders was previously his most daring experiment, has moved from the 4-4-2 he has been wedded to for competitive games.
Instead, Ireland will play in a 4-3-3, with wide men Aiden McGeady and Simon Cox (the manager is yet to be convinced by James McClean) supporting Walters. Almost as surprising is that, where the 4-4-2 usually featured two defensive midfielders in Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews, the latter is now joined by James McCarthy and Keith Fahey. Conspiracy theorists will believe that Trapattoni is doing it in a game which will likely be lost no matter what the system. However it pans out, the reaction will be interesting. Denis Hurley