Disciplined Ireland can make their mark at Euros
Much was made of the Republic of Ireland’s stingy defence before last night’s crucial Euro 2012 play-off away to Estonia.
Marshalled by inspirational veterans Richard Dunne and Shay Given throughout the campaign, Ireland’s back line had been breached just seven times in ten games.
But with only 15 scored – seven less than third-placed Armenia – there had also been some murmurings of discontent surrounding Giovanni Trapattoni’s defensive mindset.
So while last night’s resounding 4-0 away first-leg victory over Estonia permitted Irish fans to confidently begin booking rooms in Poland and Ukraine for next June, it also allowed the Italian boss to prove that his side were far from a toothless outfit.
Two goals from Robbie Keane took his international tally to an impressive 53 and showed that he was far from a spent force at this level, while Jon Walters continued in his impressive form this season with his first international goal to add to Keith Andrews’ early opener.
And while boss Trapattoni quipped that he was ‘not God’ despite getting tactics and selection spot on, his decision to cultivate a side whose strengths begin at the back will today now seem more than a little divine to delirious Irish fans.
And with Kevin Doyle and Shane Long to be added to those attacking ranks once they’ve returned from injury, the Italian boss will be confident that further clean sheets will continue to be complimented by a burgeoning frontline, an ideal combo to boast when heading to their first major tournament since 2002.
Ireland are 4/11 to finish the job in style on Tuesday with a home win at the Aviva Stadium.
As for next summer’s tournament, professionalism dictates that the players dare not look too far ahead, and Trapattoni has warned against complacency in his own inimitable manner, claiming the “cat is in the sack but the sack is not closed”.
But in an international climate where there seem to be only two or three genuinely fearsome forces, giddy Irish fans might well fancy a couple of quid on Ireland at 50/1 before those odds come in once qualification is confirmed.