IT’S ALL GETTING very real now. There was a bite about the final practice match in Gdynia. Ireland were even practising penalties.
And, duly, Giovanni Trapattoni was in quite a reflective mood. If also a state of readiness.
“I am not [exactly] excited. I am a little tense. But I want to keep a level of tension. A manager has to. It keeps the players [on edge]. It’s a positive tension.”
So, indeed, is the atmosphere around the camp.
“We are very well. Fresh in mind, fresh in body. I think one day after the Budapest game, there was a bit of a strange atmosphere. But I saw this morning, we were back to normal.”
“In every competition, one or two days before — even the Champions League final — it is a little bit tense. I think we are conscious of our quality, though. Remember, we have good quality, good balance, good mentality, our strength.”
Not to mention a full-strength team. Trapattoni all but confirmed — as many have been expecting — that the side which started the Hungary will indeed play against Croatia.
“I think, without the surprise or the injury, sure I’ve called back the same XI.”
He also insisted that there has never been a doubt about Shay Given’s fitness, after the goalkeeper finally completed a full training session yesterday for the first time since going off at half-time against Hungary.
“I had no doubt about that [Given’s ability to train]. He can play.”
As for the team they will play, Trapattoni stated that Croatia’s perceived superiority won’t have any bearing on Sunday. “They are before us in the ranking. Many players play in England, Germany. Our team know their opponent but no result is confirmed until the match is played.”
He responded to questions about replicating Greece’s feat from Euro 2004 on a similarly sagacious note.
“In the life, never say never. Obviously, it’s easy to dream. But, after that, there is 90 minutes, 90 minutes, 90 minutes. After six games, maybe the dream comes true?”
Trapattoni, meanwhile, also got quite sentimental about the number of Irish fans who have travelled… and talked about them in quite an endearing, possessive way.
“I always repeat to the players: you must be proud of our country, our people. They have made a big sacrifice: the money, the travel, the trip. The players know this. I repeated this before training. Obviously football is only 90 minutes, we guarantee our people total 100% attitude.
“I clarified, also, what I want of them [the squad]. I said they have important duty: to give all that’s possible to do to win. For Ireland, for our team, for our people it’s important.
Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni with Richard Dunne earlier. Pic: Inpho
If anyone was expecting Trapattoni to be sentimental about his age, though, they could think again. When it was put to the manager that Sunday’s game will make the oldest manager to have ever taken charge of a team at the European Championships, he responded with a quip.
“For me, it’s as if I was 20. I am fresh. Above all, I am always hungry for news, information. I watch every game so I can discover another little situation. I always want to know new things so I can discover another little situation, to know new things that I didn’t know before.
“The general, before the war, said: ‘only the man who is not curious about the next news is old.”
“I feel I can start the game. If I go back 15 years, I can play.”
How’s that for a state of readiness?