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Mission possible: 3 ways for Ireland to safely negotiate the play-offs

How Trap’s men can overcome the one team lying between them and Euro 2012 qualification.

Ireland face two potentially difficult play-off ties with Estonia next month.
Ireland face two potentially difficult play-off ties with Estonia next month.

THE UPCOMING EURO 2012 play-off with Estonia represents the best opportunity ever afforded to a Republic of Ireland team to qualify for a major football tournament. Trouble is that statement can be turned on its head and just as easily applied to Estonia.

Make no mistake about it; Ireland’s opponents will be delighted to have avoided Portugal, Croatia and Czech Republic in the play-off draw and will relish the opportunity of taking on Trap’s Army in an attempt to make it to Poland / Ukraine next summer.

The feel-good factor at having drawn 58th ranked Estonia was immediately evident in the images of the travelling FAI contingent at yesterday’s draw. John Delaney couldn’t contain his delight and playing Estonia at home in the second leg was the best possible outcome (on paper) for Ireland. Tarmo Rüütli’s Estonian side deserve respect though as they managed to overcome Serbia, Slovenia and struggling against the Faroes to emerge from their qualifying group.

The following are the three most important issues facing the Republic of Ireland in their quest to overcome Estonia and take their place at next summer’s showpiece event.

1. Pick the right strikers

(INPHO/Cathal Noonan)

The first-choice attacking duo of Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle will miss the first leg in Tallinn through a combination of injury and suspension offering fringe first-team attackers Simon Cox, Jon Walters and Shane Long an opportunity to shine. Quite what Long has to do to get back in the starting eleven is anyone’s guess and the West Brom striker’s omission from the Armenian game was perplexing to say the least.

With Long out of favour, both Cox and Walters took their opportunity and impressed in the Aviva last Tuesday evening. Knowing Trapattoni’s desire for a safety-first approach (especially away from home) it looks likely that this pair will lead the line in Tallinn. The more experienced Doyle and Keane must return for the second leg however, especially if Ireland’s away leg goes awry.

2. Cast off the defensive shackles (a little)

(INPHO/Donall Farmer)

A 0-0 draw in Tallinn would represent a decent result with a second leg in front of a (potentially) full house at the Aviva five days later. Ireland’s solidity at the back throughout a difficult qualification process is the main reason Giovanni Trapattoni’s side have made it to the play-offs.

Four of Ireland’s five clean sheets achieved during the Group C campaign came away from home, thanks to an ultra-defensive set-up. Trap restricts our full backs from crossing the halfway line and insists our central midfielders provide a defensive shield to the back four rather than push forward to join the attack.

An away victory in Estonia is attainable, but only if greater numbers are committed to our counter-attacks rather than the usual tactic of putting numbers behind the ball.

3. Change of mentality

(INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan)

Mentality is a word / phrase often repeated by Trapattoni in his press conferences when attempting to explain the psychology he wants his team to employ. Trap is an experienced Italian manager brought up on the catenaccio (sweeper) system and defensive mindset of his native country. Such a philosophy has brought Trapattoni plenty of success and the current Ireland squad are a mirror of their manager’s beliefs.

Trapattoni’s Ireland remain hard to beat and grind opponents down to achieve results rather than employing a more open, easy-on-the-eye approach favoured by pundits and ex-internationals.  The Italian’s approach has brought results and a runners-up spot in our Euro 2012 qualifying group despite wooden performances and poor attendances.

A genuine concern for Irish fans would be the scenario where Estonia achieve an unlikely victory in the first leg, forcing Ireland on the offensive at the Aviva Stadium. The recent hard-earned victory at home to Armenia exposed Ireland’s frailties when the onus is to attack rather than contain.

A change in mentality may be required to see off the Estonians and Trapattoni need only produce a DVD of the ill-fated second leg play-off in Paris to demonstrate what his team is capable of when they attack their opponents, rather than sit back and attempt to contain them.

Follow Ger on Twitter: @offcentrecircle

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