Face Sweden and Austria in Group C
5 September ~ It wouldn't be an international week without a Republic of Ireland player going public on Giovanni Trapattoni's man-management skills, or lack thereof. When Millwall's Andy Keogh was left out of the squad for the Group C qualifiers against Sweden on Friday and Austria on Tuesday, he took to Twitter to complain about not being informed. "Not even in the provisional squad, gutted, oh well might get called in last minute! #noloyalty" he wrote, before adding: "Not moaning bout bein left out jus gutted, lot of quality in the squad, maybe after Oman and NY a txt or phone call wud of been courteous!!"
Trapattoni later claimed that he had forgotten to inform Keogh but that he usually did so. The Italian could have another striker to worry about this weekend, however, after Shane Long's wasted Monday. Hull City spent about £10,000 hiring a private plane to take the West Brom striker to Leeds Bradford Airport and he had arrived at Hull's training ground before West Brom backed out of the deal.
Whatever the reasons, with a few different theories proffered, Trapattoni and Ireland must hope that Long can put club anxieties to one side as they seek to end a goalless run which has encompassed the 2-0 loss to Spain and a draw with Wales. With Kevin Doyle having fallen out of favour, Long is the unquestioned first-choice partner for captain Robbie Keane. The captain has been in good form for LA Galaxy recently and, in any case, one thing his detractors – and there are many in Ireland – cannot deny is that he has never failed to deliver in green.
In midfield, Aiden McGeady's absence means there is a wide spot to be filled and it looks to be a three-way battle between Robbie Brady, James McClean and Anthony Pilkington. McClean's star has waned since good early performances for Sunderland saw him acclaimed by Irish fans and it could be Pilkington who is chosen, despite his previous international experience amounting to one Under-21 cap in 2008 (he had assumed he was only eligible for England until Ireland made an enquiry).
Having been close to giving up football as a teenager because of the associated pressures, it would represent quite a turnaround for the Norwich midfielder. Previously, his commitment had been questioned after withdrawing from five squads in the space of a year.
The left-wing spot is the only real question-mark, as Trapattoni has already stated that David Forde will return in goal and QPR's Richard Dunne should partner John O'Shea in defence. Dunne's only football of 2012-13 was a half-hour in the friendly win over Georgia in June, but assistant Marco Tardelli is confident he can play both games. Whether he can deal with Zlatan Ibrahimovic is another matter.
Presently, Ireland, Sweden and Austria are locked on 11 points behind Germany, making this series of games very important. That Ireland are away to Germany – an almost-certain loss – when Sweden play Austria in October only magnifies the need to do well. Offer any Irish fan four points from the next two games and the deal would be taken. Denis Hurley