The Republic of Ireland have returned to full contact training following Sunday night’s 3-1 defeat to Croatia in Poznań.
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Richard Dunne returned to training having sat out Monday’s recovery session due to ”blisters and tiredness” as all 23 players completed the session. Monday’s session could certainly have been labelled as ‘downbeat’, but spirits in the camp appeared to have improved during the return to full training where vigor and venom could be seen in both shots and tackles.
An interesting aspect of Tuesday’s training session was that the XI a side end-of-session match took place between Dubliners and non-Dubliners (with the exception of the goalkeepers as there are no Dub goalkeepers). One wonders at the logic behind such a move two days before facing the defending World and European champions, when defeat would mean the end of the tournament for the Boys in Green. It would not be the first (and probably not the last) time that this observer has been baffled by the actions of the manager Giovanni Trapattoni.
The Italian now has a number of big calls to make. Judging from Shay Given’s performance in training, he is clearly currently not 100% match fit. Shots that he would usually get around his post he instead is not getting enough of a hand on and they are hitting the back of his net. Goalkeepers, more than most players, operate in milliseconds and Given’s reactions are currently some milliseconds off.
Tuesday’s training session saw Given complete the XI-a-side game while substitute ‘keepers Westwood and Forde were rotated, suggesting that the Donegal veteran is still first choice between the sticks. Westwood is a capable deputy to Given however and he deserves to start against Spain having performed more than capably during his previous international appearances. While the Manchster native has played only one previous competitive fixture for Ireland, that was against Macedonia at the Aviva Stadium last year, where he did not put a foot wrong and made a couple of excellent saves to ensure that Ireland secured a narrow 2-1 win.
Then there’s the question of Robbie Keane. Would it be insane to drop the nation’s all-time leading goal scorer? I believe it would not be. Yes, he has scored more goals than everyone in the Irish squad combined, but, he was well below par against Croatia and probably could have been substituted before the 76th minute (when he eventually was substituted).
Trapattoni has often spoken of Keane’s ability to play in the ”Totti role” – that is, playing in the hole between the midfield and the strikers. It is not a role that suits the Dubliner though. Keane is an out and out goalscorer. He always has been and always will be. The fact is that at the moment, he simply does not look like scoring a goal and Ireland can’t afford the luxury of playing a player who, at 32 and despite trojan efforts, no longer has the legs to be chasing balls up and down the park. I would therefore drop Keane also, with the view of possibly bringing him on during the closing 20 minutes if Ireland need a goal to save the game.
And then there’s the elephant in the room. Surely at this stage, Trapattoni must consider employing the services of James McClean? He is the player who has scored goals (five) than any other Irishman in the English Premier League and always looks dangerous when he gets the ball on the left wing. While Aiden McGeady is a talent and capable of great things, he has generally not produced when the team has been under pressure and he certainly did not produce against Croatia. For Trapattoni to state that James McClean, at 23 years old, is ”too young” for this level of competition, is quite frankly, ridiculous when one considers the great players (Michael Owen and Pelé to name but two of the most high profile) who have made massive impacts on major tournaments when still in their teens.
I believe that Trapattoni needs to revert to a 4-5-1 formation, so as to try to counter La Roja‘s magical midfield of Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas and Silva. Bringing in McClean on the left wing would facilitate such a move. McClean is a player ideally suited to Trapattoni’s style of play, in that the Derry man is a more than willing worker and continually bombs up and down the flank in both defensive and attacking situations.
So, much to ponder for Trapattoni. Will he perform any drastic surgery on a team which clearly needs a shake up? If his past record is anything to go by, then the answer would have to be: ”Probably not.” Aside from that, as a devout Catholic, Trapattoni will likely use the church inside the Gdansk Arena to pray before the match with Spain. This might also be a good time to resume his old ritual of sprinkling holy water on the pitch immediately before the start of big games. For this game, more surely than any in memory, the Irish will need all the help they can get.