Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 5°C
Anja Niedringhaus/AP/Press Association Images Jon Walters holds the ball up against Verdran Corluka on Sunday.
Three ways Ireland can find joy against Spain
It’s not going to be pretty, but we do have a chance of coming away with something other than a defeat against the current champions tonight.

THERE ARE NO two ways about it, Ireland face a David v Goliath-style challenge this evening. Or as one former striker so delicately put it, it’s like “Muhammad Ali versus a dwarf”.

As most football fans are well aware, the current European and world champions possess a squad of players which oozes talent and has experience of winning major tournaments together in abundance so, realistically, anything other than a defeat in Gdansk would be a massive achievement for Giovanni Trapattoni’s side, especially after how their opening game went.

It’s a given that the Iberians will have the lion’s share of possession over the 90 minutes and containment will be the name of the game for the Boys in Green – although successfully stopping Xavi, Iniesta, David Silva and Cesc Fabregas is easier said than done.

What’s vitally important is that when Ireland do manage to get the ball, they don’t hand it straight back carelessly and use it in a constructive manner and in a way that will give them the greatest possibility of grabbing a goal or two.

1. Jon Walters > Sergio Ramos

Credit: Gregorio Borgia/AP/Press Association Images

The big Stoke man has to start against Spain. Going on the Croatia performance, it should really be in place of Robbie Keane but if Walters is to get the nod, he will no doubt replace Kevin Doyle. There is also an argument of playing him up top as a lone striker with Darron Gibson coming into midfield in a 4-5-1, but Trap won’t be changing his system according to what has been coming out of the Irish camp.

Physically, Walters is the biggest asset Ireland have in attack while his knack for holding up the ball before bringing others into play and his willingness to put defenders under constant pressure makes him the striker most suited for Gdansk.

Sergio Ramos is a full-back by trade and has been brought inside to fill in for the injured Carles Puyol. As Mario Balotelli proved on the rare occasions that he showed interest in the 1-1 draw on Sunday, the former Sevilla defender is beatable and if Walters can single him out, he might be able to carve out a couple of chances for himself and others.

2. Get McGeady playing, and isolate him with Arbeloa

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Credit: Niall Carson/PA Wire/Press Association Images

The system which Spain generally use is extremely narrow and therefore the flanks are left for the full-backs to marshal. When Ireland win the ball, getting it out to our wide men will be crucial.

After McGeady came on in the second half against Bosnia Herzegovina and put in a glittering display, there was genuine hope that the Spartak Moscow winger would be one of Ireland’s most influential players at this tournament. Against Croatia, however, he was undeniably poor. A cross in the first few minutes and the delivery for Sean St Ledger’s goal were rare bright notes in an under-par performance and we need a vast improvement tonight.

Yes, Alvaro Arbeloa is a World Cup and La Liga winner but there are far better defenders out there and, when he is on top form, McGeady can cause him real problems. Let’s just hope that today is one of those days.

If for whatever reason it’s not working for McGeady, I think you’ll agree that most Irish fans would prefer to see James McClean try his luck on the left ahead of Simon Cox, who will give it his all but is out of position on the wing.

3. Make the most of our set-pieces

Credit: Niall Carson/PA Wire/Press Association Images

As we showed in the defeat to Croatia with Sean St Ledger’s goal and Keith Andrews’ chances late on, Ireland do pose a genuine threat when they send men forward for set-pieces. Presumably, we will not be carving open the Spanish backline all that often, which puts even more emphasis on the importance of consistently accurate deliveries from corners and free-kicks.

It may sound simple, but could well prove the difference between coming away with nothing and still having qualification to play for going into our final group game with Italy.

Spain v Ireland is like ‘Muhammad Ali versus a dwarf’ according to one former Irish star

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