England v Ireland: What the Boys in Green will learn from tonight

Giovanni Trapattoni will lead his side into an almost-full Wembley tonight.

Manager Giovanni Trapattoni makes his way out for training.
Manager Giovanni Trapattoni makes his way out for training.
Image: INPHO/Donall Farmer

Where the rivalry with England stands

Call it the remnants of post-colonialism, call it looking over your neighbour’s fence, but the question of whether Ireland could beat England has remained curiously consistent over the last two decades.

If Roy Hodgson’s side are not exactly the benchmark, the prospect of giving them a game has always been a decent barometer for the current status of the Irish team. And, over that time, there have been a few points when a peak for Ireland has coincided with an English dip. A meeting around 2001 would have been a proper contest, as would one in 2007 for very different reasons.

Giovanni Trapattoni’s squad obviously aren’t at England’s level at the moment but, with all of the circus surrounding Roy Hodgson’s side, they aren’t a chasm away either. ‘A result’ isn’t out of the question. The last time that Ireland were definitively better than England was that infamous game in 1995.

It’s also that which game provides some of the context for where the rivalry stands off the pitch. Whatever about violence, will the game at Wembley experience any political chanting? In truth, given how the relationship between the two countries has developed in the last decade, normal circumstances would probably see an exceptionally benign and amicable occasion.

The last week in London has seen some wholly abnormal events, though, not least the killing in Woolwich which has given rise to a slight surge in English nationalism. The English Defence League have also talked about some kind of demonstration, while there has been a furore about the FA explicitly asking fans to not song ‘No Surrender’ – in contrast to every other home game.

The pity, of course, would be for the actions of a minority to overshadow the enjoyment of the vast majority. Because, as Robbie Keane referenced yesterday, it’s difficult to see anything other than a good-natured rivalry at present.

How the new era is coming along

For all of the never-ending issues around the English national team, their baseline of quality remains one of the best in the game. While they still frustratingly lack that capacity to impact beyond the last-eight of a tournament, the ability to regularly get to that kind of stage is naturally under-appreciated. Call it Tim Henman syndrome.

As such, they will provide a firm test for how far/fast Trapattoni’s new team has developed. The game away to Sweden offered encouragement before Austria represented a slight regression. Given the greater emphasis on passing with the likes of James McCarthy in the centre, integration is perhaps going to take a little more understanding and patience. Although it is easier and quicker for a manager to just place a pragmatic framework on a team – as we’ve seen from Stoke — it is much better and more productive in the long-term to develop technique and a progressive game. A team will always be less bound to their limits and thereby possess so much more potential. How much Ireland actually take the game to England and get on the ball tonight will be telling.

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Pic: John Walton/PA Wire/Press Association Images

The match will also be interesting in that sense, however, because of Roy Hodgson’s own aversion to possession football. In Euro 2012, it could even have been said that England were merely a higher-quality version of Trapattoni’s Ireland. If Ireland actually use that to develop possession against a superior side, it will represent significant evolution.


  • With Wigan Athletic relegated and Roberto Martinez departed, the sought-after James McCarthy is keen for a transfer that keeps him in the Premier League. An influential performance against some of England’s better midfielders might initiate things.
  • odd as it is to say it, a fully matured star like Wayne Rooney is in a similar position. After an inconsistent campaign and Manchester United’s indifference to actually keeping him, the forward could do with putting in the kind of commanding display that has been missing all season.
  • the Irish defence has understandably looked much more open than when the Richard Dunne-led backline was at its peak, while Daniel Sturridge has appeared increasingly fluid and dangerous for Liverpool of late. That mobility will provide a stern test for whether the new defence can stick together.

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