In a game that many hoped would herald the dawn of a new era for the Republic of Ireland, smatterings of ‘same old, same old’ linger around the international set-up.
Giovanni Trappattoni’s Republic of Ireland team face Kazakhstan in Astana this evening hoping to put a miserably disappointing European Championships behind them.
However, whilst many pundits, former players and fans believed the September 7th fixture would be a perfect opportunity to get rid of some deadwood the Italian manager has decided to stick with the majority of players who failed him in Poland.
Ireland go into tonight’s game with a goalkeeper who has not been number one at his club for nine months, a striker whose glory days are long behind him and a starting eleven of which just one finished last season in the top-half of the Premier League in England.
It is well documented that Ireland do not have an embarrassment of riches that perhaps a team like England might, but just a few years ago at least eight members of the squad would have tasted European football at its highest level in the Champions League.
Tonight’s team sees four players who have competed in that tournament, and whilst the experience of O’Shea and Keane will be vital it is a sad indictment that only one of Giovanni Trappattoni’s players is plying their trade at the highest level in Europe.
Aiden McGeady will compete in this year’s tournament for Russian club Spartak Moscow where he faces a trip back to Glasgow to face old club Celtic.
The other player who has tasted Champions League football is Darren O’Dea, but even his career as a top-level footballer seems to be slipping away as the 25-year old has joined Robbie Keane in the MLS; the former Celtic player plays with Toronto FC.
Trappattoni has gone with players he feels will do the job best for him but, looking at the team the Italian has selected, the midfield looks a little static.
In front of goalkeeper Keiren Westwood is a defence comprised of John O’Shea and Stephen Ward at right and left back respectively with a central defence pairing of Leicester’s Sean St.Ledger and Darren O’Dea.
O’Shea didn’t have the best summer in Poland where he, at times, didn’t even look fit, but his experience will be vital in Astana this evening as will St.Ledger’s as he takes on the role of his usual partner Richard Dunne in the heart of the defence.
Stephen Ward had a summer to forget having been relegated with Wolverhampton Wanderers at the end of last season before going on to endure a torrid time on the left side of Ireland’s defence at Euro 2012.
The Wolves player will hope to have a solid game in the former Soviet state tonight as he and his Ireland team-mates look to get off to the best possible start.
It is just one day over a year since Darren O’Dea performed heroically alongside Richard Dunne that night in Moscow as Ireland secured a huge point which went a long way to helping Trappattoni’s side qualify for Euro 2012.
O’Dea will need to be in the same form that Dunne was that night as the former Celtic player looks to stake a claim for a regular place when he wins his 15th cap tonight in Astana.
Glenn Whelan will hold his preferred role in the centre of midfield breaking up Kazakhstan attacks and if he can break from the norm and pass the ball forward then we could see a new star in the making as James McCarthy makes his competitive debut with Keith Andrews suspended.
With Whelan breaking up play and getting McCarthy on the ball Ireland would look a lot more dangerous a proposition than they did in Poland when the technically inferior Andrews played in the role McCarthy will possess tonight.
The wings sees Ireland’s only Champions League representative, Aiden McGeady play on the right whilst his compatriot on the left is West Bromwich Albion’s Simon Cox.
Trappattoni has been baited on message-boards for selecting Cox ahead of the dynamic James McClean but, whilst the decision to play Cox seemed simple enough due to the claim that McClean had been suffering with a virus all week, the Derry man has thrown a spanner into the works with a recent tweet.
McClean tweeted: “for everyone asking no I am not sick! #100%fit just managers decision…hope we can get the 3 points the mara (sic) big game #coybig”
Jon Walters partners Robbie Keane up front and whilst both players come in for a fair amount of criticism Walters’ robust attributes coupled with Keane’s eye for goal could become vital in Astana.
Keane’s departure to LA Galaxy in the MLS may seem as a nice way to wind down a very successful career but the Irishman declared that he gets a buzz like no other lining out for his country.
The country’s record goalscorer said: ‘Of course I thought about it but the thought of never putting on a green jersey again was difficult to come round to and even now I am dreading that. I want to play as long as I can for my country and as long as I am fit and healthy and the manager picks me, I will play.
‘When Damien and Shay decided to retire, it was a sad day for Irish football because they have been two of the best players this country has ever seen.
‘It is strange not having them around. When you have been with two players for so long, and me and Damien came in at the same time and Shay was a year before I think, you get used to seeing those faces.
‘The thought of never seeing them again in the squad is not nice but hopefully, as the manager has said, they will change their mind.
‘It is a bit strange not having them here, but then you never saw Duffer anyway because he was always in bed asleep but it is strange and they will be sadly missed.’
Local officials are expecting between 15,000 and 20,000 spectators at this evening’s game, which kicks off at 5.00pm (Irish time).
Ireland: Westwood; O’Shea, St Ledger, O’Dea, Ward; Cox, Whelan, McCarthy, McGeady; Keane, Walters.
Kazakhstan: Sidelnikov; Kirov, Mukhtarov, Rozhkov, Engel; Konysbayev, Korobkin, Nurdauletov, Shmidtgal; Gridin, Ostapenko.
Referee: Ionut Avram (Romania)