Sweden 0, Ireland 0. What an Irish Joke.

23 Mar

 

Did you hear the one about the Irish football Manager who went fourteen matches  undefeated in competitive matches away from home, who qualified his team for the European Championships for the first time in 24 years, who should’ve qualified his team for the 2010 World Cup but for the infamous Hand of Henry and whose team still has a reasonable chance of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup?  You have?  You’ll have probably heard or read then about the constant clamour for his sacking this week had Ireland lost “heavily”, or lost at all in Sweden last night.  You’ll have probably read on social media and football forums the nonsense from “fans” bemoaning how many goals Ireland were going to lose by in Stockholm.  You may have read nonsense from Irish football “reporters” fawning over Zlatan Ibrahimovic and how he was going to embarrass Ireland, or more personally, Paul Green.  Words like “claptrap” were used in the build up to the game by one particularly consistent critic of all things Trapattoni, the same journalist who then jokingly (or maybe not) tweeted that he’d asked Ronnie Whelan if he’d brought his boots with him to Stockholm.  Hilarious.   Well folks, Ireland didn’t lose as the vast majority of fans and press expected.  Ibrahimovic embarrassed himself rather than Ireland, or more pertinently, Paul Green.  Ireland got as a comfortable a draw as I can remember for a long time and with a bit more composure in the final third of the pitch, may have got a win but given the defeatism, pessimism, negativity and gloom all week, I’m very pleased with a draw and it’s now fourteen away games undefeated under the watch of Trapattoni and nobody can argue with that statistic given what we were used to on the road under Brian Kerr and Steve Staunton.

Now let’s get a few things clear before I go on.  Giovanni Trapattoni was fortunate not to have been sacked following Ireland’s disastrous Euro 2012.  His utter refusal to change the team personnel and formation during the three defeats was frustrating and stubborn.  His over-reliance on experienced players who weren’t fully fit going into Poland came back and bit the Italian badly.   One goal scored, nine conceded in the three games in Poland was indeed P45 material.  The FAI however had renewed Trapattoni’s contract prior to the tournament, so sacking him in June really wasn’t an option financially and the start of the 2014 World Cup Campaign was only weeks away.

Things didn’t appear to improve in the opening qualifier away against Kazakhstan as Kevin Doyle came off the bench to rescue his country by setting up a late equalizer and scoring the winner as Ireland limped home 2-1.  “Informed” sources in the Association according to our wonderful press corp intimated that Trapattoni would be dismissed following that away victory.  The sources and the press were wrong.  The FAI decided to persist with Trapattoni and despite a hiding in Dublin to a rampant Germany (6-1, but it was only three points lost to arguably the 2nd best team in Europe), things improved with an away win against the Faroes.

So to this week.  Trapattoni again displayed some appalling man-management in his treatment of Kevin Doyle.  Admittedly Doyle’s club form at Wolves has dipped alarmingly and he would be the first to admit that, but for Trapattoni to omit a player who’d probably saved his job with his cameo in the Kazakhstan game and who’d been one of our very few half decent players in Poland was baffling.  To do so via text added insult to injury.   Furthermore, Trap then selected his starting XI for last night’s game with Robbie Brady included but with a large asterisk beside his name as “to be confirmed”.                  Glen Whelan’s late withdrawal led to young Brady finally being omitted at the 11th hour, as James McCarthy replaced Whelan and the extra muscle and experience of Jon Walters got the nod ahead of young Brady.  This was crass stuff from Trapattoni, but crassness has been a hallmark of the Italians reign so it wasn’t altogether suprising.

Despite Trapattoni’s awful behaviour during the week, what really riled me was the utter pessimism, gloom and doom and complete dismissal of Ireland’s chances of plundering at least a point in Stockholm.  The fawning over Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic was embarrassing.  Zlatan is a terrific talent and has scored some wonderful goals this season, but if you bothered to watch him closely over the years, the word “enigmatic” was made for him.  He can be as ineffective as he can be inspirational.  Pep Guardiola discovered that quickly enough in Zlatan’s one season at Barcelona.   It was right for us to fear him, but the bigging up of him all week was cringe-inducing.  His performance last night consisted of a header into the path of Tobias Hysen who forced David Forde into a decent save and a weak enough shot that deflected off Seamus Coleman for a corner.  That was the sum total of Ibrahimovic’s contribution.  Back to his inconsistent, enigmatic self and that was great news for us.  There was as much fawning over Zlatan as there was derision among press and fans over the inclusion of Paul Green.  Green can be forgiven for signalling his middle finger at the press corp today, but I’m sure given what has befallen him in his career so far, he has far more intelligence than that.

While Green’s passing was sloppy at times last night, he excelled in his job spec.  He provided decent cover in front of the back four, made timely interventions to break up the few passing moves Sweden put together and made some fine headed clearances from good defensive positions.  In short, Green delivered on Trap’s confidence in him.  Suck it up lads.

The opening 20 minutes of the game was as good as I’ve seen Ireland play in an away match for a long time.  The tempo was excellent, the passing was crisp (from James McCarthy in particular) and we were stretching Sweden wide with James McClean very prominent early on.  Ibrahimovic didn’t touch the ball in the opening 20 minutes and we should have done better with chances for Keane and Long in that period, but given the bigging up of Sweden (I wasn’t among them), this was excellent stuff.

When Sweden did get some possession or were awarded free kicks, we coped comfortably at the back and David Forde saved well when he had to.  We weren’t hanging on at any stage during the 90 minutes and while the stats showed that we didn’t have one shot on target all match, that masks the overall course of the match.  With more composure in the final third of the pitch, we could and should have created more chances to get some attempts on target and I’m sure the Trap/Green bashers will point to that stat.   Well suck it up again lads, we got a point and very few of you expected that (and maybe some of you hoped we wouldn’t,  best fans in the world?).

Before Trapattoni’s era, it was so often a hard luck story on the road.  Crucial points that should’ve been picked up lost to a late and heartbreaking defeat.  There was rarely the character assassination of a player likely to be included by Staunton or Kerr.  There wasn’t the pessimism and constant manager-bashing that we saw this week.   Press and fans called for change in player selection following Euro 2012.  It happened!  Given and Duff retired (yet people insisted that they should come back, mind-boggling!), Dunne, St Ledger and Andrews have been injured, so that’s half of the starting XI in Poland that had to be replaced.  Well Trapattoni has replaced them with David Forde, James McClean, Ciaran Clarke, Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy and has given overdue recognition to Wes Hoolahan and Robbie Brady.  Brady’s time will come.  Patience is a virtue in international football, something that Darron Gibson could learn a thing or two about and a virtue that has served David Forde well at the age of 33.

Press and fans called for change, well they got it, but still they called for Trapattoni’s head.  Fourteen games now unbeaten on the road in competitive matches and still they call for John Delaney to sack his man!  Madness, a real Irish joke if ever there was one.

Trapattoni has his faults, there is absolutely no doubting that.  But what would one prefer?  Also-rans in qualifying groups as it was in the Kerr and Staunton eras?  Or taking one’s chances in play-offs as group runners up?  I think we all know the answer to that.

Our neighbours up North and our Celtic cousins of Wales and Scotland would trade places with us right now.

Keep the faith lads, it doesn’t hurt, honestly.

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