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Referee: William Collum | Attendance: 80126

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  • Frank Lampard 23'

1 - 1


Republic of Ireland

  • Shane Long 13'

Expecting the unexpected

Gareth Maher
Giovanni Trapattoni is under pressure to get results

On paper, it is nothing more than an end-of-season friendly fulfilling a promise between England and the Republic of Ireland that has been 18 years in the making. But it is a lot more than that.

Not only is this the latest encounter in a long-standing rivalry between two neighbours with a history of producing memorable scraps, it is also an opportunity for both teams to build up some much-needed momentum before another domestic club campaign rolls around.

With crucial World Cup qualifiers on the horizon, Roy Hodgson and Giovanni Trapattoni know that any chance to work with their respective squads and get a high-intensity game in cannot be overlooked as they are both still trying to figure out their best starting line-up's and define a style of play.

For England, individual quality can often bail them out of tricky qualifiers, but Ireland don't really have such luxury and the few players who do fall into that category are often left on the bench or excluded from the squad altogether by Trapattoni - a manager whose methods belong to an era when milk came in glass bottles and music was only on vinyl.

Ireland actually have a busy period ahead with this friendly coming before a clash with Georgia, then a must-win World Cup qualifier against the Faroe Islands, and a glamour tie in New York with World and European champions Spain. Although, toppling England - especially at Wembley where they have never won - would, arguably, mean the most to the players and the supporters.

"This is a good test, pyschologically and physically. Our players are familiar with England's players because the majority of them play against them in the Premier League while others play in the Championship," said Trapattoni at the pre-match press conference.

"It is a good opportunity for us to grow in personality and to understand that it is always possible to get a result against a strong team. Only when you play against a strong team, can you evaluate your improvement [as a team]."

While there is unlikely to be a nastiness to the contest, there should be a competitive edge as beating the old enemy is something that belongs in folk songs and history books; it is not usually a feat expected of a team who that will be made up of players from the Premier League's bottom half, the Championship, the Russian league, and even MLS.

Yet, Hodgson has been warning his England players of the battle that lies in wait and anyone expecting a match that is essentially a non-contact, end-of-season training session, well they will be quite surprised once the tackles start flying in.

"It's going to be a tough game, it might be like a Premier League game with the intensity and maybe different to a normal international," said England striker Jermain Defoe.

Injury deprives Ireland of a chance to cap Norwich City winger Anthony Pilkington, whose commitment has been questioned considering he will be on his honeymoon and has dropped out of four squads already. But Trapattoni insists he is on board once his knee injury clears up.

The only uncapped player in the squad is Hull City's Stephen Quinn - drafted in as a late replacement for Paul Green - but this friendly is unlikely to be used by Ireland to experiment; instead, they will select their strongest possible line-up and attempt to raise their collective level of performance against a team ranked 32 places above them.

Having set up base camp in Watford since Sunday, Ireland are treating this game seriously and are using it to prepare for the Group C qualifier against the Faroe Islands. And that is why captain Robbie Keane fought with his club, LA Galaxy, to be released for it and why Richard Dunne has linked up with the squad despite not playing a single game for Aston Villa in the season just gone. Nobody wants to miss this occasion.

Trapattoni has given Keane the nod to start alongside West Brom's Shane Long in a 4-4-2 formation with Stoke City's Jonathan Walters shifting out to the right wing. There has been, and will be, plenty of debate over whether Keane deserves to start, but he is in superb form for Galaxy and Trapattoni always stands by the players who serve him well.

The selection of Keane and the non-selection of Norwich playmaker Wes Hoolahan are fresh grumbles that Irish fans will have with Trapattoni, whose treatment of players like Everton midfielder Darron Gibson (still in self-imposed international exile) and stubborn tactics have made him very unpopular since last summer's embarrassing defeats to Croatia, Spain and Italy at the Euro 2012 finals.

However, supporters of the 74-year-old believe that he is doing his best with a limited pool of players and many outsiders think that such a small country should not have lofty expectations. But Hodgson reckons it is Trapattoni's record that should afford him some extra credit and patience.

"He is one of the world's outstanding coaches. I think if you want to talk about legends, in coaching terms, then Giovanni Trapattoni's name, he's really right up there with men like Rinus Michels (ex-Ajax manager)," said Hodgson.

While Ireland remain in the mix to reach the 2014 World Cup - mainly due to Sweden and Austria being so ordinary - behind group leaders Germany, the heat on Trapattoni will only cool down when he starts guiding his team to big results again.

A win over England on Wednesday night would certainly tick that box, but all that is expected from Ireland is a fighting display as an old rivalry finally gets reignited.

Republic of Ireland (starting line-up): Forde; Coleman, O'Shea, St Ledger, Kelly; Walters, McCarthy, Whelan, McGeady; Long, Keane.

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