Certainly, Ireland’s first foray into international tournament football in over ten years did not yield the outcome many had hoped for. Nevertheless, in spite of being largely outplayed and surprisingly outfought by an athletic and silky Croatian team, Ireland’s tournament is far from over.
Next up for this Irish team are the European and World Champions Spain. A daunting task at any time, but I strongly believe that Trap’s boys will do the business on Thursday evening in Gdansk. Obviously changes will be required, maybe the introduction of McClean and possibly Walters or Long from the beginning will give us some much needed pace to trouble the not so solid Spanish backline. As both Long and Walters demonstrated throughout the Premier League season, they can make the most confident of defenders struggle and personally I would fancy Walters of giving Pique a particularly torrid evening. However, unusually for this side, the fundamental problems were in defence and here is where I would strongly advocate some changes.
Shay Given our greatest goalkeeper was simply horrendous last night and arguably he was at fault for two of the Croatian goals. I would replace him with the more agile Westwood who has shown some remarkable form in the lead up to the tournament, particularly against Hungary. In addition to replacing Given (which in all likelihood won’t happen) Stephen Ward certainly deserves the chop. Switching O’Shea to left back where he performed manfully for years at one of Europe’s premier clubs would allow us to bring in Kelly at right back where he performed well for Fulham in a successful season for Martin Jol’s men.
Undoubtedly any result against Spain would be terrific but in reality they are not unbeatable. England and Switzerland demonstrated the effective blueprint to counteract the Spanish threat and I believe that Ireland can achieve similar results. Spain as the last world cup highlighted never slaughter teams by many goals and without Villa they are unlikely to trouble Ireland in the manner the Croatians did. Luck is a word that is over used in football, but as an Irish follower of our campaign, I can say we had our fair of it throughout qualifying. Now would certainly be a great time for some more of Trap’s magic to reap some rewards for stalwarts like Dunne who deserve to be successful at tournaments such as this. After the Spanish game, in spite of them achieving a positive result all they did was complain about the pitch. Football doesn’t need such negativity and to be honest it would be great of Ireland could give them something else to complain about.
With their never ending belief and a freshening up of the side I am confident we will be able to take at least one point from the game on Thursday. Traditionally Ireland have always prospered against the world’s so called bigger teams and Thursday evening in Gdansk would be the perfect opportunity to continue in that long line of great performances. I for one believe that they will!