After the Republic of Ireland saw their Euro 2012 journey come to an end with a comprehensive 4-0 defeat to Spain, thoughts turn to the decisions that manager Giovanni Trapattoni must make for the final Group C game against Italy.
Ireland were unable to upset the reigning champions to keep their hopes of qualification for the quarter finals alive, and had little in response to the Spanish inquisition enforced by the metronomic domination of one of the finest midfields the international game has ever seen. Yet the Irish will be disappointed with the manner in which they conceded the goals, and Trapattoni would be within his rights to demand more solidity in defence.
The Boys in Green have conceded in the first five minutes of all four halves of football they have played so far in the tournament. Greater concentration was required against both Croatia and Spain, and the defensive unit will be disappointed that they have been too easy to bypass and not provided the team a platform upon which to build.
Ireland only trailed by a single goal at half-time against the Spanish, and were still very much in the game. David Silva’s strike just a few minutes into the second period effectively ended Irish hopes in the competition, at which point their supporters – who dominated the crowd in Gdansk – gave everything for their players.
The show of pride led to condemnation from former captain Roy Keane, working as a pundit for ITV.
Ireland’s final game is now a matter of pride, with only Italy able to qualify for the next round. The Azzurri could require a high score if Spain and Croatia play out a draw, but shipping goals will be the last thing the Irish will want. This makes Trapattoni’s decisions regarding his side tricky, as there is an argument for blooding some of the younger members of his squad to hand them some valuable tournament experience.
The veterans of the side, such as Shay Given, Damien Duff and Robbie Keane, will feel that they deserve the opportunity to complete the tournament in the starting XI. This could lead to other members of the team making way for the more inexperienced likes of James McClean, Darron Gibson and Shane Long. There is little chance of a change in game plan against the Italians, but as one generation of Irish players nears the end of its cycle, another one has the opportunity to gain experience at the highest level.
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