AHEAD OF FOUR days in which Giovanni Trapattoni can finally end all debate about his style, his reign and – most importantly – Ireland’s decade-long wait for an international tournament, the manager left one key decision hanging in the air.
He still didn’t tell us whether he will start Simon Cox or Jon Walters tomorrow.
As such, in the cold confines of the Le Coq Arena this evening, Trapattoni only named a first 10 — and there were absolutely no surprises in that. But then, it’s probably the element of surprise that the manager was going with as regards his remaining forward.
Although Trapattoni did insist that the issue was still open because he had yet to decide which of Cox or Walters would be better starting or better coming in, given his history and given the stakes involved it can hardly be coincidence that he has taken this game to come up with such a ploy.
Indeed, all the while beside him Robbie Keane was smiling as the questions grew more pressing about why the decision had not been made – or at least announced.
Keane managed to get a bit of a laugh himself when, having being quizzed about whether he had spoken with Thierry Henry about the play-offs after their domestic fixture last week, he deadpanned: “Oh yeah, an hour long conversation… what do you think? We just said hello.”
The line itself did touch on the firm focus of the Irish team leading up this game. Keane himself radiated an air of confident concentration.
We know the jobs we have to do. This is what we’ve played for. These are the games you want to be involved in.
“Everyone knows. We don’t want to let this slip.
“There’s a lot of calmness in the camp. Everyone seems relaxed. We’re just looking forward to playing.”
Asked whether that’s because the opposition were an underwhelming Estonia rather than a fearsome France, Keane demurred.
“Irrespective of who we’re playing it would be the same situation. On paper you’d say we’re favourites but they’re a tough team and anything can happen. We’ve been watching videos of them.
You can’t take Estonia for granted for one second and that’s certainly got across to the lads.
We’ve grown as a team, we’re better with each game. And we’re certainly better than two years ago.
His manager certainly believes that, on the evidence of those two years, Ireland merit a place at Euro 2012.
“I have already said, without arrogance, that we deserve to qualify and maybe also in the last campaign. We’ve improved the team and we’ve changed players. I think we can be proud of our job.
Trapattoni then added another line to his neverending list of mangled metaphors.
“A team is like a salad… a mix. I think our team now has a new identity.”
Interestingly, Trapattoni was then asked about whether it would be a personal blow to his career if he didn’t finally take Ireland over the line.
“There are always surprises. Over 180 minutes, there can be mistakes form players, referees. But I am an optimist because in the last seven/eight games we only conceded one goal and our performance has always been good. I think we have a good opportunity.
“For many players this is the last chance.
“It doesn’t influence our job.”
Keane, meanwhile, insisted that Ireland would take the game to Estonia.
You don’t go into any match looking for a draw. It’s impossible. You go to win. And that’s what we’ll be trying to do.
Keane, of course, will also be looking to make up for a decade of frustration.
“It’s a pain in the arse to be honest [watching tournaments every second summer]. Especially the last World Cup because we were so close.
“This is what we play football for. We can’t let it slip away.”
Ireland: Given; Kelly, St Ledger, Dunne, Ward; Duff, Andrews, Whelan, McGeady; Keane, Walters/Cox
Estonia (probable): Pareiko; Jaager, Piiroja, Rahn, Klavan; Kink, Vunk, Dimitriyev, Kruglov; Vasilyev, Ahjupera