A DECLARATION of intent on the pitch tonight to match the one delivered by Giovanni Trapattoni at his press conference yesterday would be nice.
Temporarily casting aside what he said was a career-long habit of diplomacy, the Italian declared: “In my heart I think we can finish first in this group.”
Irish football supporters will be forgiven if they choose to delay judgment on that prospect at least until after this afternoon’s European Championship curtain-raiser against Armenia.
An intimate stadium, sweltering temperatures and unglamorous but potentially dark horse opposition – these are precisely the circumstances in which Irish teams have laboured in the past and, on more than one occasion, come up woefully short.
So it would be something of a significant marker for the long road ahead, if Ireland could see off Armenia with a degree of comfort.
Of course, any kind of win would be considered mission accomplished. A draw, by no means the end of the world, would feel more like a defeat, at least until we see how Russia and Slovakia fare in the Armenian capital.
But, as for leaving Yerevan with zero points, well, Trapattoni would need to look deep into his heart again if that’s how it all pans out later today.
For the manager the result is everything – anything else this evening would be by way of a bonus. Yes, he claims he likes to see his team knocking it about but only if the end result of such finery is points on the board.
“I am glad when I can see them on pitch and they play with one-touch – boom, boom – but that is not always easy,” he cautioned. “The first aim for me, perhaps not for the people, is the result. There is playing well, not playing well, but the result is very important.
“In the World Cup, Brazil and Argentina played the nice football – but they went home. Yes, Spain played beautiful football too, but with a European mentality. It was 1-0, 1-0, 1-0, not four or five.”
In other words, whatever it takes to get his charges over the line will be enough for Il Trap, and the purists will have to go elsewhere.
Especially in the Republican Stadium in Yerevan, where Trapattoni expects the home side to employ a tough, aggressive platform on which to build their speedy counter-attacks.
Hence, it seems, the decision to give a competitive debut to Derby County’s Paul Green ahead of the competing but contrasting claims of Darron Gibson.
“For an away game, you need a special attitude,” said Trapattoni. “And in this game midfield will be a battle.”
The manager was understandably pleased therefore to be able to name a warrior-like Richard Dunne in his starting line-up, even if the Aston Villa man only trained yesterday with the Irish squad for the first time this week, after a period spent nursing a sore quad muscle.
Robbie Keane is another established name who is carrying a knock but the skipper insisted it won’t limit his input today. He said that he’d have the suspect knee checked again by the doctor this morning but “hoped not to have to go down the road” of taking a pain-killing injection before kick-off, as he had to do last year against Bulgaria. And when Keane was asked if he was confident he could last 90 minutes, the manager interjected to answer for him. “Sure,” said Trapattoni, his expression suggesting any other possibility was simply out of the question.
Keane also dismissed the day-time temperatures here – upper 30s – as being of little consequence in terms of the game, noting that he had played in even more scorching weather during Spurs pre-season tour of the US.
To that extent, he felt that Yerevan would pose no greater challenge for the Irish than did Nicosia in the last campaign. It will also help, of course, that while kick-off Irish-time in the 14,000-capacity Republican Stadium is mid-afternoon, here it will be the relative cool of 8pm before battle is joined.
Asked what message he might like to send to Irish fans at home planning to knock off early to watch the match, Keane grinned and said: “Hope you enjoy your few pints with a win for us.”
It has to be said that Ireland away don’t always help the refreshments go down smoothly, so here’s hoping today is not just the start of a new campaign, but a sign of things to come.
Photo: Ireland train in the Republican Stadium ahead of their Euro 2012 Group B Qualifier against Armenia this afternoon. Picture: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
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