Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Signs of progression for Ireland
It is the performance rather than the result that matters in friendly games, so there is reason for Giovanni Trapattoni to be upbeat despite watching his team lose 3-2 to Uruguay.
• International friendlies review
• Friendlies Gallery
The 3-2 scoreline is not a big concern for the Republic of Ireland. Of course, a home win to follow up the Euro 2012 qualifiying victory over Macedonia would have been welcomed, but it wasn't needed.
Instead, the Ireland's manager focus will be on the encouraging display his experimental team produced against an opponent who are ranked seventh in the world and reached the semi-finals of the recent World Cup.
Goals from Diego Lugano, Edinson Cavani and Abel Hernandez highlighted the inexperience of the Irish side, but there were plenty of positives to note. Shane Long and Keith Fahey hit back with goals, Ciaran Clark showed composure on only his second cap and James McCarthy stood out in the 4-4-1-1 formation.
Opting for a different system and a rookie line-up to operate it proved that 72-year-old Trapattoni does actually have an adventrous streak in him. He is likely to switch back to his more conserative - which is understandable - for the remaining qualifiers, but at least he now has a Plan B.
In this game, Ireland set off out of the traps with a predictable robustness and supplied some flashes of slick, attacking play. It was a sign of what a new-look Irish side could be capable of as Clark roamed forward from left-back and embarassed Napoli forward Cavani by twisting and turning past him three times.
Fahey provided a creative spark in central midfield as he spread play well and drove forward to support the attacking duo of McCarthy and Long, who made clever runs off the ball but deserved better service. Although, Fahey was the one player who showed that he is ready to push for a regular starting place.
The Birmingham City man covers a huge amount of ground, links play superbly and has the kind of impact going forward that Ireland have been crying out in central midfield since Steven Reid announced his international retirement. He also isn't afraid to shoot from long range as he showed on nine minutes and again on 18 minutes.
From the other contenders hoping to start in the upcoming Carling Nations Cup games against Northern Ireland and Scotland, Keiren Westwood made a superb double save on 69 minutes and took on the role of being a vocal leader in the defence, Kevin Foley did an unfussy job at right-back and Long impressed as a lone striker.
However, international football can be quite cruel - especially against a quick, counter-attacking team like Uruguay. Luck played more of a part than actual skill for Lugano's opener, but the goals from Cavani and Hernandez displayed ruthless finishing.
All three of the visitor's goals exploited defensive lapses in the Irish backline, but that is something that can be tightened up when the likes of Richard Dunne and John O'Shea return. The positive thing was how they responded with Long and Fahey pulling goals back.
Trapattoni reverted back to a more familiar 4-4-2 for the final quarter of the game with Andy Keogh joining Long up top. Both worked hard to feed off scraps, but the tempo noticeably dropped when Fahey was replaced by Darron Gibson and there was a lack of zip to Ireland's play.
Friendly games are all about trying something (or someone) different. So in that regard, this was very much a useful exercise for Trapattoni. He has tried a new system, given several players a chance to convince him that they deserve more caps and witnessed some really positive football.
With the aforementioned Carling Nations Cup games as well as a summer tour to the United States, there are opportunities on the horizon for Ireland to experiment further. And that could lead the way for a more positive, attacking team to emerge.