Giovanni Trapattoni is backing his defenders to keep Zlatan Ibrahimovic at bay as the Republic of Ireland attempt to take a step towards World Cup qualification in Sweden.
The Republic will head for the Friends Arena in Stockholm on Friday evening knowing defeat would represent a serious blow to their hopes of making it to Brazil in 2014 with the two sides and Tuesday night’s opponents in Dublin, Austria, seemingly vying for second spot in Group C behind leaders Germany.
If they are to return with a positive result, they will have to find a way of dealing with 6ft 3in Paris St Germain frontman Ibrahimovic, although having seen his side defeat Poland 2-0 in last month’s friendly at the Aviva Stadium, Trapattoni is confident they can do just that.
The Italian, who celebrated his 74th birthday on St Patrick’s Day yesterday, said: “Zlatan is Zlatan, but I am very confident in our players.
“I have seen their confidence this morning, and you just have to look at the game against Poland because the balance and the commitment and the technical ability that they showed, all of that makes me very, very confident.”
Paris St Germain striker Ibrahimovic, 31, has two goals to his name during the current qualifying campaign, one of them his side’s first in a remarkable 4-4 draw with the Germans in Berlin in which they had trailed 4-0 10 minutes after half-time.
But asked if he would attempt to man-mark a player whose former employers include Ajax, Juventus, Barcelona and both Milan giants, Trapattoni said: “Not at this moment, I don’t think so.
“I know how he is playing at the moment for his club, but I have to think about our balance and how our strikers can put them under pressure too.”
Trapattoni does, however, have decisions to make over his defenders with stalwart Richard Dunne still missing through injury.
Paul McShane, Greg Cunningham and Ciaran Clark lined up alongside the vastly-experienced John O’Shea against the Poles in the absence of Dunne, Sean St Ledger and Darren O’Dea, but the Italian has significantly more options this time around, with St Ledger and O’Dea back in the fold.
The manager was giving little away, although he admitted the aerial threat posed by Sweden would be a major consideration.
He said: “We have many options. John has experience, also Clark at this moment is in good condition, also O’Dea and St Ledger, so we have good options.
“But I think we must think about their big tall strikers.”
'I have many difficult decisions to make'
At the other end of the pitch, skipper Robbie Keane will return to the starting line-up after missing the Poland game, and he seems likely to be partnered by West Brom’s Shane Long, who has been nursing an ankle problem in recent weeks.
Trapattoni also has Conor Sammon, Jon Walters and Simon Cox among the ranks to give him different options during the game should he wish to either add fresh legs or change approach.
However, for the first time during the Italian’s reign when he has been fit, there is no place for Wolves marksman Kevin Doyle in the squad.
Doyle, who was once described by Trapattoni as one of the best strikers of his type in Europe, has fallen out of favour as injury and a lack of form have seen him slip down the pecking order.
Asked if it was a difficult decision to place the 29-year-old only on stand-by for the two games, the manager said: “It was very difficult – but I have many difficult decisions to make.
“In the past, I had a lot difficulty building a team; now I am in difficulty when I choose the players.
“But I’m very happy that we have this quality. We have Robbie, who came back last week and has scored goals, and then we have Sammon, Cox and Shane Long. We have many.”
Goalkeeper David Forde and Walters sat out training today as a precaution, but are expected to resume tomorrow.