IRELAND ARE SET up in the ideal mould to defeat Spain says the journalist who has spent the past decade following Las Rojas.
Ireland face the reigning world and European champions on June 14 in Gdansk.
The fixture will be Giovanni Trapattoni’s second in the Championships and so a result could prove invaluable if the Boys in Green are to progress from Group C.
Having seen Barcelona – who make up the core of the Spanish team – beaten in recent seasons by extraordinary defensive efforts from Chelsea, Real Madrid and Inter Milan; Hunter is sure that Trapattoni’s catenaccio is the best way Ireland can seek to counteract the red machine.
“Ireland represent exactly the kind of side that Spain might stumble against,” says the Scot. “Spain are better man-for-man, let’s not fanny about – when you look at how Ireland play at their best and the best things that Trapattoni has brought them, then you see the type of organisation that helped Switzerland beat Spain in the first game of the World Cup.”
Though greeted at the time as possibly being the beginning of the end for Spanish dominance, the side regrouped and squeezed out a series of narrow wins on their way to becoming World Champions. Speaking to TheScore.ie ahead of his trip to Dublin, Hunter was keen to issue a tale of caution as an important footnote to that famous Swiss ‘success’.
“Spain most certainly had an off day when they were flat, made mistakes and there was a lack of sparkle. Switzerland were tremendously athletic, they were very well organised and in the end they won – a very scrappy goal – but they won. They didn’t go through the group mind you.”
With that, Hunter underlined where the focus must lie for Ireland after a decade-long wait for a return to a major tournament. Slaven Bilic’s Croatia are our closest peers and it is the result of the first game which is likely to prove much more important than the second.
“Whether Ireland’s great day happens to be against Italy or happens to be against Spain, it’s patently clear that they must beat Croatia. One great group victory can drain a set of players who know they have achieved something extraordinary.”
Carles Puyol in the 2010 World Cup final. / Matt Dunham/AP/Press Association Images.
With the news that the tournament will come too soon for the knees of Carles Puyol, Ireland were handed some small cause for optimism this week.
Hunter, having observed the centre-half closely for over a decade, could not downplay the effect his absence will have on the international squad. Not only is the Barcelona captain a skilled and uncompromising defender, but with Spain he is a leader of men and a figure to unify a famously disjointed camp.
“One other thing which is important is that there have been slight problems caused by tension between Madrid and Barcelona. Certain players augment that tension, certain players decrease it. Puyol was without question a player who decreased it.
“One of the players who was old enough and wise enough to put club colours aside, but also to have respect and individual friendships with players right across the spectrum. Again, his absence – though by no means fatal – strips away something which was going to be important to the atmosphere in the camp.”
Graham Hunter is the author of ‘Barca: The making of the greatest team in the world’. He will be appearing for a talk and signing with Hughes and Hughes in the Stephens Green shopping centre tonight from 7.30 pm.