For the managers of Ireland and England, all problems are relative. After England secured a place in the European Championships with a draw away to Montenegro, one might have expected a reprieve for Fabio Capello and his men. An undefeated qualifying campaign is usually grounds for celebration, or at least contentment. Instead, England is under more scrutiny now than before the campaign began. How Giovanni Trapattoni would love to have such problems. While Capello faces questions surrounding team selection and formation, the only questions directed toward Trapattoni revolve around qualification itself.
Tuesday, the Republic of Ireland must at least draw Armenia in Dublin to keep their qualification hopes alive. An Armenian victory would see the Irish crash out and the former would secure a spot in the playoffs. However, a draw or win for the Republic would see them finish second in Group B behind Russia. Finishing first place is a possibility, albeit a remote one. A Russian loss at home to minnows Andorra, coupled with an Irish win, would see Trapattoni’s men top the group. Regardless of the outcome in Moscow, Ireland and Trapattoni are under immense pressure to at least make the playoffs.
Unfortunately for Ireland, securing a point against Armenia is far from a formality. In qualifying, Armenia has already drawn Russia, defeated Slovakia 4-1 in Zilina, and pushed the Irish all the way in a 1-0 home defeat. If Ireland’s victory against Armenia is any indication, the match at the Aviva Stadium will be intense.
The Armenians are enjoying a rich vein of form, riding three consecutive victories into Dublin. Ireland’s recent results look good on paper as well, having registered four consecutive clean sheets. However, the performances have not been awe-inspiring and therein lies the problem for Trapattoni. In the Irish press, Trapattoni has been consistently criticized for omitting technically gifted footballers in favour of those willing to play in his defensive system. One can assume caution will be the watchword for the Irish Monday night. Trapattoni built a squad that is difficult to beat, but also one that plays a dour brand of football. In a result oriented business that’s fine, as long as the results are there. If Ireland fails to do the minimum against Armenia, the desire of the press to oust the Italian will rise from a background noise to a crescendo.
At the beginning of qualification, if Ireland were offered their present scenario they would have undoubtedly accepted it. Yet, everything is poised for a classic Irish collapse, especially with the news that captain Robbie Keane will be out due to injury. The tension will be palpable Tuesday night, and all the focus will be on Trapattoni. Neutrals will be hoping for an Irish win, eyeing the possibility of a playoff rematch against Les Blues. Capello may be hoping for this development as well, if for no other reason than to have another storyline taking up inches in the sports column.