ARGENTINA, Armenia, Andorra – it’s all the same to Giovanni Trapattoni.
Always anxious to field his most experienced side, regardless of the opposition, the Ireland manager surprised no-one yesterday when he announced that his starting 11 for tonight’s game against Andorra at the Aviva Stadium will be unchanged from the one which began against Armenia in Yerevan on Friday night.
Only briefly, it seems, did the thought of freshening things up for the visit of the Group B minnows cross his mind. “I did think about the possibility of changing a couple of players for this match but first I wanted to see if those who played against Armenia had fully recovered,” he revealed.
“I saw that they were very well in training so I am satisfied they are fully recovered and we can start with the same team. I hope, with an advantage, that I will have the opportunity to give others the possibility to play during the game.”
But, never one to give hostages to fortune, the Italian declined to specify what he felt the advantage on the scoreboard would have to be before he’d feel it’s safe to make changes.
However, he did say that, with Glenn Whelan on a yellow card after the game against Armenia, he would be looking for the first opportunity to withdraw the Stoke City midfielder so that, up against what is expected to be pretty physical opposition, he won’t risk missing next month’s game against the group favourites.
“I told him be careful, to remember we also have Russia,” said the manager. “He must not play as if afraid to make a foul but he must think. When we have advantage my first aim will be to change him.”
Trapattoni played down the Andorrans’ no-holds-barred reputation, saying that probably the biggest problem his side will face will be finding a way through a massed defence.
His solution is to pummel the opposition into submission with relentless pressure and a high-tempo approach from the off.
“Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Kapow!”, was how he mimed what will be needed to land the knock-out blow, punching a fist into his hand to ram home the point. And, verbally, he sounded about as close to Jack Charlton as you suspect an Italian ever will.
“I think sure we must put pressure immediately on the opponent,” he said, “so that we will have many opportunities in their box or near their box. We must not allow them to take confidence, because it’s not Argentina or Brazil. When we win the ball, we must go immediately and put them under pressure. I am concerned about the lack of space. We need to play fast and with precision. Robbie and the players know we need to play fast, two-touch football in little space, like in training. If we move the ball fast, one second before they can close the space, then we will have opportunities to score.”
At the same time, the ultra-pragmatist will not throw caution to the winds, suggesting that the Irish central midfield and defence won’t be allowed to forget to mind the house.
“Remember against Cyprus?” he said, recalling the 5-2 embarrassment in Nicosia. “Ireland score early but then they counter-attack and score. You can’t just go, go, go. Also in Armenia, we conceded two or three counter-attacks which were very dangerous. Thank God, they didn’t pass immediately as there were one or two players free on the left and right.”
Trapattoni, of course, is fully aware that both Cyprus and Armenia are a distinct cut above the part-timers of Andorra but, as a vastly experienced football man, he also knows a thing or two about giant-killing exploits.
“Thank God, I have never been the victim of such an upset,” he smiled, “but I do remember that (as a member of the club’s coaching staff in 1975) I had a difficult game in Ireland with AC Milan when we drew 0-0 against Athlone Town.”
Robbie Keane was also singing from the same hymn sheet as his boss, mindful of the fact that, although rested on the night itself, he was otherwise a key member of the World Cup-qualifying Irish side which conceded a shock opening goal to Andorra in wet and windy conditions at Lansdowne Road back in 2001, a game which Mick McCarthy’s side eventually won by a far from convincing 3-1 margin.
“It’s not always easy against so-called lesser teams,” said the captain. “They get everybody behind the ball and sometimes it’s very difficult to break them down. You need a lot of patience, and it’s important to get the first goal because then things can open up. But it’s by no means an easy game.’’
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