Twelve months of criticism, tension, frustration and joy and it all comes down to the next 180 minutes. The next two games will determine Giovanni Trappatoni’s faith along with the hopes of a nation but more importantly if we qualify for a European Championships for the first time since 1988.
First up Republic of Ireland travel to Andorra this Friday to play a side who haven’t yet registered a point in Group B. Three points is expected but the pressure and the of such expectations and the amount which is riding on the game could prove more of a difficulty then the lowly opposition. All things point in the right direction for Trap’s men- Andorra have lost their last 33 games, Ireland have kept seven successive clean sheets and on the three occasions that the Boys in Green have met Friday’s opposition we have scored three times in each on our way to victory.
So it should be a comfortable three points then! I don’t think so unfortunately given the state of the pitch number one and the pressure which Trap’s men are under. Victory on Friday would set us up nicely for the last game in Dublin on Tuesday. We play Armenia, and by no means is it a three pointer but we would expect to win which would guarantee us a play-off spot and pile the pressure on Russia at the top. Let’s stop getting too far ahead of ourselves though as Friday’s game will require determination, grit and passion like what we saw from Richard Dunne in Moscow.
Andorra borders both France and Spain and has a population of just 80,000. As for its football team, they are ranked 203rd and by no means is football the national sport. As it is in the Pyrenees, the main sports are snow sports. Incredibly they have recorded just one win ever in competitive matches and that game against Macedonia. So if we could choose any country in Europe to come up against in a game which we need to win, is Andorra the perfect game? All of their players play in Andorra or play for lower league sides in Spain or France.
Jon Walters will not be able to recreate his fine form for Stoke in a Green jersey as he did not travel with the squad due to injury. Shay Given is expected to recover from a wrist injury which has kept him out of training all week. Without Richard Dunne through suspension, Trap needs John O’Shea to step up and lead the back line which undoubtedly he is capable of doing. The Sunderland defender should be fit despite being hit by several injuries so far this season.
Full team news to follow when Trappatoni announces his starting XI….
In the other games in Group B, Slovakia host Russia. Let’s assume we pick up three vital points in Andorra, I know it might be tempting faith but for the purpose of predicting the group let’s do it anyway! If Russia draw in Slovakia then we could go top of the group on goal difference and then a win at the Aviva on Tuesday would secure automatic qualification. If both ourselves and Russia were to win on Friday then I think we would have to settle for a play-off. Russia host Andorra on Tuesday so I don’t expect any favours there! We also have to be wary of Armenia though. They lie just one point behind us in 3rd and they play Macedonia on Friday which they should win so any slip up in the Pyrenees for us and the group is swung wide open. Let’s just end all the predictions etc and go out and pick up six points from our remaining two games.
Prediction: I know we are capable of winning easily in Andorra, a good start like Marco Tardelli emphasised is greatly needed and we need to take the game to the ‘minnows’. The longer the game goes on scoreless then the more tension and pressure will build up and that could be disastrous. Ireland to get the job done, just about though, 2-0 Ireland.
The game kicks off at 8.30pm Irish time tomorrow (Friday) evening and you can follow it all with Sports News Ireland. My Live Match Tracker will begin at around 8pm so be sure to logon and get involved.