Category: Archive

World Cup Preview: Fans hope for bold Republic approach

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The first is against Cyprus in Nicosia on Saturday, and the final fling comes against Switzerland at Lansdowne Road on Wednesday. Currently in fourth place in the group behind the Swiss, France and Israel in that order, with just one team to qualify automatically for those 2006 finals in Germany, Ireland have to win both matches.
Mathematically, it is possible for Kerr and his players to reach Germany 2006 without maximum points from the two games, however, that scenario is just about as likely to pan out as Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy exchanging Christmas cards.
Even if the team emerges from this most pressurized of situations with the victories that Kerr needs if he is to survive, then it is probable that the highest the Irish can finish in the group is second place. That will necessitate a two-leg play-off as in 2001 when McCarthy’s side defeated Iran to book a place in the following year’s finals.
In normal circumstances, an encounter either home or away with makeweights like the Cypriots would pose no great problem – remember Ireland won 3-0 at a canter in the first group match just over 12 months ago – but this time the stakes are so high that even the most experienced players will feel the tension.
And crucially, the player who would have most to offer with Ireland on a precipice, Roy Keane, will be absent from both matches through injury. While Clinton Morrison and Andy Reid will both miss just the Cyprus game because of suspension, they can be replaced by the likes of Stephen Elliot and Steve Finnan respectively, but the class and big-match temperament of Keane is surely irreplaceable.
Coincidentally, Keane, who is injured, intimated last week that his illustrious career with Manchester United will come to an end next year. A 33, and with 12 seasons under his belt at the English club, Keane clearly feels it is time to move on, and he may seek a two-year contract either in Scotland, Spain or France before he retires.
Asked why he expected not to be offered a new deal by United, Keane said: “It’s just my gut feeling, that’s football. Players come and go and people move on. I think a time comes for everyone to move on. Obviously, if the club contacts me and offers me a new contract, things might change, but I’m not putting a gun to anyone’s head. Life won’t stop when I leave United.”
With the current speculation about Kerr’s future, there has also been talk of Keane as a future Ireland manager, but right now, he will be missed as a player. Certainly, if the Irish fail to qualify this time, the former captain will more than likely have played his last match for his country.
After such an encouraging start, which took in that 3-0 win in Dublin over Cyprus as well as draws in Switzerland and France, the qualifying campaign has unravelled for Kerr. His team was 1-0 in front in Israel from an early stage but instead of having the confidence to press forward and secure a second goal which would have killed the game off, Ireland sat back and the Israelis equalizing in the closing minutes.
There was similar inertia during the 2-2 draw with the same opposition at Lansdowne Road. Ireland teams of the past may not have been that attractive to watch, but they invariably punched above their weight, and performed with genuine self-belief. Guided by a coach who is tactically extremely cautious, the displays in this group have been largely uninspiring.
Losing 1-0 to France, who have world-class players such as Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry and Lillian Thuram, was not a disaster in itself, however, the relatively tame manner in which Ireland approached the game was bitterly disappointing.
The question now is whether Kerr can inspire his players to produce two forceful, attacking performances. Clearly, if the approach is yet again conservative, the omens won’t be good for back-to-back wins. The manager has to be bold, more positive in his selection, if Ireland are to salvage something from a qualifying campaign that has gone badly wrong.
Even then, that might not be good enough.

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