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Mid-term report: a game-by-game look at Trap's performance so far on the road to Brazil

It hasn’t *all* been bad, you know.

TUESDAY NIGHT’S DISAPPOINTING draw against Austria marked the half-way point in Ireland’s World Cup qualification campaign.

With five games played, Giovanni Trapattoni’s men are locked in a three-way battle for second place in Group C and though opportunities have slipped through their fingers, the manager firmly believes that the qualification dream is still alive.

Here we assess the five matches so far and grade Trap’s managerial performance on three criteria: squad selection, match tactics and PR points.

Kazakhstan 1-2 Republic of Ireland (7 September 2012)

Squad selection: B+

The international retirements of Shay Given and Damien Duff and the absence of  Richard Dunne through injury gave Trapattoni the chance to breathe some fresh life into his squad as they started a new campaign. Seamus Coleman, Marc Wilson, James McCarthy and James McClean all kept their places after being called up for the Serbia friendly but there was no place for Norwich City duo Anthony Pilkington and Wes Hoolahan to the disappointment of many.

Match tactics: C

Ireland’s performance was utterly uninspiring against the team ranked 142nd in the world. Trapattoni went with Jon Walters to partner Robbie Keane up front but it was his decision to send in Kevin Doyle for the last half-hour which changed the game. Doyle made the equaliser and then scored the winner in the game’s final minutes, sparing Ireland — and Trap’s — blushes.

PR points: A-

The first big row on the road to Brazil blew up in Trap’s face when Darron Gibson announced that he was not ready to rejoin the squad following his Euro 2012 disappointment. Trap handled the second with aplomb though, letting James McClean know in no uncertain terms that a repeat of his “#fuming” Twitter outburst would not be tolerated but then drawing a line in the sand.

Republic of Ireland 1-6 Germany (12 October 2012)

Squad selection: B

Trapattoni’s squad was decimated in the days leading up to the nightmare defeat against Germany with Richard Dunne, Sean St Ledger, Glenn Whelan, James McClean and Kevin Doyle all ruled out through injury.

The manager’s hand was forced slightly and that opened the door for the inclusion of Ciaran Clark and Robbie Brady in the squad, the latter making his competitive debut as a late substitute and creating Ireland’s consolation goal in the 6-1 defeat.

Match tactics: D

With little other option, Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy both started but matters weren’t helped when skipper Robbie Keane was forced out with an Achilles’ injury 24 hours before kick-off.

Forced to think on his feet, Trapattoni went with Jon Walters as a lone striker in a system he described as part 4-3-3, part 4-5-1. In reality it left Walters isolated as Ireland defended with 10 men behind the ball and despite a bright start, efforts to contain the far superior Germans were ruthlessly picked apart.

PR points: C-

Without doubt this was the single worst result of Trapattoni’s Irish tenure and the FAI and management both came under immediate pressure. With no public backing forthcoming from his Abbotstown bosses ahead of the trip to the Faroes, Trap soldiered on defiantly.

Faroe Islands 1-4 Republic of Ireland (16 October 2012)

Squad selection: B

With little doubt that defeat in the Faroes would signal a swift and merciless end to his time in charge, Trapattoni made three changes in Torshavn and took the opportunity to hand both Robbie Brady and Marc Wilson their first competitive starts, while David Meyler also made a very brief appearance from the bench. Darren O’Dea hung on to his starting place despite a horror show against Germany while Robbie Keane’s recovery saw him lead the attack with Jon Walters, leaving Shane Long to mull over his prospects from the bench.

Match tactics: B-

After a grim and scoreless first half Ireland eventually battled their way to a 4-1 win, the goals coming from Wilson, Walters, O’Dea and a Faroese OG. Trapattoni’s persistence in playing Simon Cox on the wing saw Brady substituted at half-time.

PR points: B-

With the Germany backlash still in full flow, Ireland went into full-on crisis mode when a row between Trapattoni, Marco Tardelli and Stephen Kelly ended with the defender refusing to get on the plane before he was eventually talked down.

Despite the criticism coming at him from all quarters Trapattoni didn’t blink in his waiting game with the FAI, insisting that there was “no problem” and that he would continue to do his job until informed otherwise. The following night, the FAI board met and backed Trapattoni — although they seized the opportunity to implement a number of changes and conditions in the way the manager was doing his job.

Sweden 0-0 Republic of Ireland (22 March 2013)

Squad selection: A-

The fruits of some experimentation in the friendlies against Greece and Poland could be seen in a squad which included Wes Hoolahan, Jeff Hendrick and Conor Sammon while Wolves duo Kevin Doyle and Stephen Ward had to make do with a place on the standby list.

David Forde, who replaced Keiren Westwood as Trap’s first-choice keeper for the friendly against Poland, made his first competitive start as did Ciaran Clark.

Match tactics: B+

Glenn Whelan’s late withdrawal with an injury forced Trapattoni into a late reshuffle and James McCarthy and Jon Walters, neither of whom were in the original team, both started in Stockholm. It was a stroke of luck as McCarthy was easily Ireland’s best player in the scoreless draw.

The decision to play Paul Green in midfield was an unpopular but the manager’s decision was vindicated by a competent if workmanlike performance from the Leeds midfielder. Ireland looked more at ease when Wes Hoolahan made his entrance late on but it will take a lot more to convince Trapattoni that the Dubliner can be more than an impact sub under him.

PR points: C+

The Irish squad hadn’t even assembled in Malahide before Trapattoni caused a storm with his decision to leave Doyle on standby , a row which flared up again during the week when Doyle publicly expressed his disappointment that he had been axed by text message.

The week took another bizarre turn on the eve of the game when Trapattoni named Robbie Brady in his starting line-up but then insisted that the youngster’s place was conditional on him proving his psychological strength. Trapattoni later rowed back and claimed that the media had misinterpreted his comments on Brady.

Republic of Ireland 2-2 Austria (26 March 2013)

Squad selection: B

With Robbie Keane again ruled out through injury, Trapattoni took a leap of faith in handing Conor Sammon his first competitive start in a game he knew Ireland desperately needed to win. Glenn Whelan’s return for Paul Green was the only other change to the starting XI, resulting in a side built around the young and exciting core of Coleman, Clark, Wilson, McCarthy, McClean and Long.

Match tactics: B-

David Alaba’s 92nd-minute equaliser was a sucker punch which changed the entire context of Group C and the race for second place. The most galling thing about Austria’s late goal was that it had been on the cards for most of the second half as Ireland dropped deeper and deeper and tried to absorb the waves of Austrian attacks.

Trapattoni was criticised afterwards for leaving it too late to make his changes and then for making a mess of it when he did, taking off Man of the Match Shane Long rather than the visibly tired Conor Sammon, playing Paul Green on the right wing for the final minutes and leaving Wes Hoolahan on the bench.

PR points: N/A

Nothing of note here, unusually. Trapattoni was asked on more than one occasion afterwards if this result would be his last as Ireland manager but brushed off the criticism and insisted that he believes in his young squad and the possibility of qualifying for the World Cup.

All photos (c) INPHO

Don’t touch that dial… here’s the sport on TV this long weekend

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About the author:

Niall Kelly

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