Trapattoni gives Ireland solid base for Euro 2012 challenge

With qualification for Euro 2012 sealed, the Republic of Ireland now faces the task of succeeding in Ukraine and Poland next summer. Guided by the experienced Giovanni Trapattoni, the conquerors of Estonia appear to be aiming high, none more so than the manager himself.

Trapattoni said: “With this group [of players], why not [match Greece]? It’s not a dream. I hope only that we have no injuries and no suspensions.” The Italian’s optimism is laudable – and in a tournament of only 16 competitors, not entirely unreasonable – but success is still relative for Ireland. The possibility of a highly difficult group exists – potentially Spain, Germany and Portugal – and, in that context, merely escaping from the group stage would be something of a triumph. But the manager who reveals a defeatist attitude before a ball is even kicked, particularly so soon after Ireland’s impressive play-off performance is unlikely to find favour with the supporters, and so Trapattoni is only ever going to espouse positivity.

It is also conceivable that Ireland are handed a relatively straightforward group. A foursome of Ukraine, England, Greece and Ireland would leave the latter confident about making the next round, and from then on it is just a few short games before the final. As Greece proved, once the knockout stage is underway, with a clear tactical plan and the players available and performing at the top of their game, ultimate victory for one of football’s lesser lights is not out of the question. Under Trapattoni, Ireland have most definitely had a clear tactical plan, not always pretty, but was executed perfectly during qualification.

Tactics blog www.zonalmarking.net wrote in the wake of Ireland’s qualification: “Trapattoni…has decided upon a negative approach…it has proved successful – Ireland [lost just one game from 12]…with six clean sheets from those 12 matches.” Such stingy defensive work is often the basis for improbable success; Greece in qualification for Euro 2004 conceded only four goals from eight games. Ireland conceded slightly more – eight in the 10 group games and two play-off ties – but under Trapattoni Ireland scored more goals, 20 in 12 games to Greece’s eight in eight. Keeping a tight defence and nicking a goal or two, which Ireland is capable of with such a strong group of available strikers – including Jon Walters, Kevin Doyle, Shane Long and Robbie Keane – is a promising path to group stage progression.

Those qualities instilled in Ireland by Trapattoni have perhaps won more points than plaudits but when the team line up for their first Euro 2012 match, and first involvement at a major tournament finals in a decade, it will mark a credible achievement for one of the most decorated club managers in history. Adding a further trophy to his already creaking cabinet, that of the European Championship, may be unlikely but it is not impossible. The group stage draw will determine much of Ireland’s future, but the manager has shown they are in reliable hands.

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