||ESPNsoccernet: Euro 2012
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Trapattoni left with plenty to ponder
Gareth Maher, Aviva Stadium
It is not quite time to play 'The Final Countdown' as the build-up to Euro 2012 has yet to crank up, and that is something that the Republic of Ireland will be pleased about.
After fighting back to draw 1-1 with Czech Republic in a friendly at Aviva Stadium, Giovanni Trapattoni got to see just how much his team have to improve before the big games arrive in June.
Shorn of just two starters in Richard Dunne and Kevin Doyle, this was close to Ireland's best XI as Trapattoni sees it. Yet they never dominated an average Czech Republic side and were actually put on to the back foot by a team who reached the Euro finals as the lowest scorers in qualifying.
The attacking elements for Ireland never fell into place, with winger Aiden McGeady delivering two superb crosses at the beginning of each half, but contributed little else going forward. That was probably more than Damien Duff offered on the other side. Then again, this performance focused more on the team's shape and organisation - something Trapattoni is wary of ahead of meetings with Croatia, Spain and Italy in Group C this summer.
Ireland coped well with the Czechs' 4-2-3-1 formation with their straightforward 4-4-2, but there were moments when the cracks began to appear. Milan Baros' goal on 50 minutes was the best example as the midfielders went missing before John O'Shea got sucked out of position. It was schoolboy defending. However, it is better to make those kind of mistakes now and not at the Euro finals, where every error is likely to be punished.
"I just don't think we ever got going tonight. We were a bit flat for some reason. It's going to happen a lot in the summer as well," Duff said after the game. "We are obviously playing Spain, world and European champions, and Italy and Croatia. They are three of the best teams in Europe. They are going to have a lot of the ball, so we're going to have to keep a good shape about us."
On the positive side, Trapattoni will have noted the impact his three substitutes had. Simon Cox did well to beat his marker and squeeze home a low shot for the equaliser, Jonathan Walters caused havoc up front with his running and James McClean delighted the home crowd, who gave him a hero's welcome on his debut.
In a ten-minute cameo, McClean showed flashes of why he has had such an impact in a short space of time at Sunderland. There is a rawness and directness about him that is reminiscent of a kid playing in his local park - he just wants to take defenders on and score goals. That sort of play excites supporters and the Irish fans clearly want to see more.
The question now is what does Trapattoni do with McClean? The next friendly does not arrive until May 27 against Bosnia & Herzegovina and by that time the squad will be close to the 23-man group destined for Poland. And if McClean's form at club level is not as impressive as it has been to date then his chances of being included in the final Ireland squad will be slim.
"For any player, it's a dream to play for your country at a major tournament. I'll just continue to play well for Sunderland week in, week out and come the summer, you never know," McClean said philosophically.
Right now, it would be foolish to leave the Derry native out. He can add a spark when introduced from the bench, put pressure on the wingers ahead of him in the pecking order and give the fans someone to be enthused about. Trapattoni has time on his side to deal with that dilemma.
After the friendly in Dublin against Bosnia & Herzegovina, Trapattoni will take his squad to his native Italy for a training camp before facing Hungary in a friendly in Budapest. Then it is straight into Euro combat, so he has a short period of time to make key decisions and ensure the mistakes are eradicated.
A lot done, more to do - that is what Trapattoni must be thinking as he heads back to his Milan base to analyse the DVD of a performance that should have been more reassuring.