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Preview: A new journey begins, as Ireland face Kazakhstan

Both players and manager alike need to convince following a disappointing Euro 2012 campaign, writes Sean Duffy.

Giovanni Trapattoni speaks to the media ahead of Ireland's game with Kazakhstan.
Giovanni Trapattoni speaks to the media ahead of Ireland's game with Kazakhstan.

A NEW JOURNEY begins for the Irish soccer team this evening, as Giovanni Trapattoni’s side look to put the nightmare of their Euro 2012 sojourn behind them.

A squad without the talent of stalwarts Richard Dunne, Shay Given and Damien Duff travel to Kazakhstan needing to overcome a side ranked 142 in the world.

It is something of a journey into the unknown. Trapattoni’s steadfast loyalty to the old-stagers in the previous campaign means that some of the new faces will be getting their first real taste of competitive action in an Irish shirt. The hopes of a nation have (somewhat unfairly) been placed on the young shoulders of James McCarthy, and while the Wigan player is a great prospect, he will certainly need time to adjust to the demands of international football and indeed the manager’s system.

Trapattoni’s defence will be without the injured Richard Dunne, although that disappointment is offset by the knowledge that Dunne will return for next month’s qualifier at home to Germany. The Villa man’s return to the fold will be an incalculable bonus for the manager, as he bids to rebuild morale and confidence in the side.

Cryptically, Mario Tardelli stated this week that he hoped Damien Duff might yet make himself available for the Germany game. That remark triggered a number of important questions. Would Duff really be willing to contemplate a return? Did Tardelli know something we didn’t? If Duff really wanted to play on, why was he allowed to retire in the first place? It was the latest in a litany of confusing statements, which has become a hallmark of this regime. Mis-communication with the media is one thing, but the ongoing confusion with players is becoming a growing concern.

That confusion was again evidenced in the frustrating withdrawal of Darron Gibson from the squad. Gibson and Trapattoni have had a number of spats during the Italian’s tenure, the culmination of which was last week’s declaration from the player that he wasn’t ready to play for Trapattoni after the disappointment of Euro 2012.

In Poland, with the team foundering and struggling to retain possession in midfield, Gibson sat as an unused substitute for the entire tournament. That the player is now enjoying the best form of his club career when Ireland are looking for a revamp in midfield is a sad irony; a scenario the manager is largely culpable in bringing about.

Gibson’s withdrawal leaves Ireland a little short in the centre of the park. McCarthy and Glenn Whelan are the preferred two for tonight’s game, with Aiden McGeady and Simon Cox occupying the wide berths. Cox has been a revelation for Nottingham Forest since his arrival from West Brom and Trapattoni will be hoping the 25-year-old can carry that form into this game.

The returning captain should also offer a goal threat having rediscovered his touch at LA Galaxy. Of all this summer’s potential retirements, supporters were arguably least concerned about Robbie Keane’s involvement in this campaign, a sign that his stock has fallen since his decision to move Stateside. The striker undoubtedly needs to convince that he remains an asset to the Irish starting eleven. The tactical straight-jacket imposed by Keane’s selection is well documented, and should his barren spell at this level continue, the noises for his omission will grow louder.

Of all the players with the potential to make an impact on this trip, Jonathan Walters appears the best equipped to enjoy success. Ireland will most likely persist with Trapattoni’s direct style for this game in the hope that superior physicality will overwhelm the hosts. It is a ploy which has succeeded against lesser lights in the past, most notably in the away play-off victory in Estonia. Walters was key for Ireland that night and may well be again in Astana.

However, there is no doubt that Trapattoni desperately needs his players to return home with three points secured. Renewed optimism in the build-up to the Germany game is essential after a summer of discontent.The road ahead feels slightly uncertain, and the manager now needs to show that he is the right navigator.

Read: Cox and O’Dea handed starts, as Ireland team to face Kazakhstan is announced>

Read: Travelling Irish soccer fans warned of Kazakhstan’s terrorism risk>

About the author:

Sean Duffy

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