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Discussion in 'Ireland' started by pmannion, Jun 9, 2012.
Is it true that there's a welcome home party at Dublin airport today?
For the fans.
Unlike Ireland, this guy (eventually) found the goal:
Spain 4, Italy 0 had a familiar ring for Irish fans and yet for all the one-sidedness of both scores, there are very few who would claim that as Spain beat both Ireland and Italy 4-0, Ireland and Italy are on a par. The statistics show that with zero points, Ireland equalled Holland, yet again few would claim that Ireland are the equal of Holland, even though Holland only scored one more goal than Ireland. It probably fair to say that Ireland were the worst team of the 16 at the finals; in truth they were comprehensively outplayed in the Spain and Italy games and while the Croatia game was not as one sided as 3-1 would have you believe, Croatia were still the better side and worthy winners.
But what of Ireland in this tournament? Were they all that bad? And what does the future hold? And whither Trap? Well, the fact that the two best sides in the tournament were in the Irish group. Most observers predicted a difficult passage for Ireland with Italy and Spain and most observers were correct. That fact that this was the weakest Irish squad at a major tournament only exacerbated the problem with having Europe's top two teams in the group. Spain might have been given a scare by Portugal in the semis, but there never really was any doubt. And Ireland's cause was also not helped with the very possible notion that this Spain side just might be the greatest international side ever. Better than Brazil '70, Holland '74 & '78, and Hungary '54. You don't want to get too poetic in these things, but Hamlet spoke of how all occasions did inform against him. So with this Irish team. Weak(est) squad, two finalists in your group and possibly the best ever side to take to the field in the history of international football. Hmmmmmm...........
Statistics can point you in a direction and while you would be stupid to make a definitive argument based solely on statistics, they are some which should illuminate. For starters, Ireland was the only team from Pot 3, (3rd seeds) to qualify from the groups. The other 13 teams (Poland and Ukraine as hosts) were all 1st or second seeds. This might go a long way to explaining why many thought just getting to the finals was the achievement. Equally, there's a stat that after the group games, Ireland had 4? 5? players in the top 10 who covered the most meters. Ireland grafted and gritted its way to the finals with a game based on a rock solid defense with wins borne out of harrying opponents up and down the pitch. Push, push and more push. There is nothing elegant about the Irish game, it's not made up of the tiki-taka of Barcelona/Real Madrid, nor is it constituted of the sweeping counterattacking of Germany or even the supposed cantenaccio of Italy, though in truth, that's what it most closely resembled. But with that squad, Ireland don't have the players to hold the ball, that's why so much of its game is based around closing down the opposition rather than creating. But as Ireland discovered to its cost, there's no closing down Spain. Mind you, Italy discovered the same in the final, so it's not as if Ireland was trying to do something that other countries hadn't or haven't being trying.
Then there was the collapse of the Irish defense. This was the rock upon which qualification was achieved. A solid defense that didn't give away cheap goals and made to opposition work hard for every yard gained. I see no reason to doubt or fault Trappatoni on relying on a defense that had shown its mettle. The fact that it self-destructed 4 minutes into the first game and continued to do so throughout was a combination of bad luck, bad timing and no plan B. Trappatoni didn't have a Plan B because there really was none available. What was he to do? Flood the midfield at the expense of the forwards or the backs in the hope of retaining possession? Play 3-4 forwards? Go to a 3-5-2? All of these are options, but none of these were options at Trappatoni's disposal. Partly because he has eschewed anything other than rigid 4-4-2 throughout his Irish tenure, partly because he doesn't have the ball players for anything other than 4-4-2, partly because he picked players that only conformed to his 4-4-2 system. He could be indicted on showing a lack of ingenuity in playing to different systems and formations (and players), but in the parlance, he really only could dance with the one that brung him. There have been lists here of players such as Hoolahan, Coleman and so forth, of players who have the creativity to play other than the rigid 4-4-2, but the fact remains that Trappatoni was only ever going to stay true to the system and players that got him to Poland. He was not going to reinvent Ireland in the 7 months between qualification and kick off. But once his defense fell apart, he was on a hiding to nothing.
There have been calls for the old guard to retire based on the performance at the finals and perhaps some of the calls are justified. Was Given injured? And if not, is the loss of form permanent? Because that was not the Shay Given that most Irish fans know. Fewer than 3 years ago, there was a serious debate at Man City as to who was the better keeper, Given or Hart? But Given was more Bonner USA '94 than Italia '90. Richard Dunne was good in patches, ven excellent here and there, but by and large he would have to be labelled unreliable. He didn't instill confidence. St. Ledger is a competent Championship player who plays within himself and who usually neither disappoints nor impresses. As he proved in Poland, but again, not a man to be building the defense around. John O'Shea was ordinary at best and never impressed and Stephen Ward had a nightmare tournament, the Italian game notwithstanding. And all 4 as a unit fluffed their lines, calls and plays time after time. It obvious that Robbie is on his last legs and had he not been captain, I wonder if he would have kept his place throughout? Whelan and Andrews were probably the only bright spots, with both playing as well as they were allowed, especially Andrews who was head and shoulders the Irish player of the tournament. Duff did his job well, and McGeady frustrated everyone around him. And by frustrated, I mean his teammates, not the opposition. I don't think there has to be a mass exodus or retirement, but Duff, Keane and perhaps Given might want to look to their achievements from the sidelines in the future.
On another day, with the ball bouncing luckily for Ireland, would anything have happened differently? Well, for starters, they were always going to be beaten by Spain. I predicted 4 points from Italy and Croatia (the win being against Italy! and had things gone differently, I do think they had the beating of Croatia and a draw with Italy in them. But that's assuming a near perfectly executed game plan by the team, especially the defense. Also, there's a case to be made that had Ireland been in England's group or Group A, the game would shave been kinder to them, allowing them to play a game more suited to their style. In large part, I agree with this. Playing Spain and Italy is a far cry from the Czechs and Greeks or the English and French. But I also think they would have gone three and out in the German group also.
Overall the fact remains that Ireland just didn't have the quality to match up with Spain, Italy or Croatia; their one chance melted away when the defense capitulated so easily and after that it was all about damage containment, especially as neither the squad was picked with a Plan B in mind, nor had Trappatoni ever really played one, nor indeed were the players left at home the solution. The Euros are harder to win that the World Cup, so kudos to Ireland for being the only 3rd seed to qualify, but at the end of the day, it just was not to be. It wasn't a shameful performance, like say those of the Russians, Dutch or French, all of whom should have done better; it was a performance over three games that showed the lack of depth in the talent available. You wish they could have done better, but you know that how they performed was about right. A pity, but it is what it was.
Samarkand, I agree for the most part but I think that our main issue for a while has been our weak central midfield.