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Revenge will be Served Cold

After being humiliated twice by Cyprus during Steve Staunton's reign of error, Ireland have a score to settle...

Tony Cascarino, 23 Oct 2008

Ireland’s upcoming game against Cyprus brings back painful memories of our matches against that country in our previous qualifying campaign, which were nothing short of a disaster. Although we lost 5-2 in Nicosia, which was dreadful enough, I actually felt the 1-1 draw in Croke Park was probably worse. Of course, Steve Finnan scored a late goal to secure us a point, but the Cypriots managed to create three or four one-on-one chances during the match. I was at Croke Park on the night, and I remember thinking, “We have such a soft centre to our side.”

Teams were just walking through us and getting at our back four, and our defence was not strong enough to cope. What’s so interesting about this encounter is that you cannot now walk through the Irish team in the same way. That’s because you’ve got Glenn Whelan and Stephen Reid in midfield, and they do their job effectively. They’re athletic, they break the opposition’s play up, and they’re good enough on the ball to set attacks in motion.

The strength of the central midfield pairing is the big difference in our side from a year ago. Now that we’re looking more solid defensively, a key question is how we’ll fare as an attacking unit. After the Georgia game, there was a lot of debate as to whether Andy Reid should have been in the team ahead of Stephen Hunt. Personally, I feel that Hunt was the right choice, as Andy Reid, whilst being an incredibly creative player, is something of a liability when he hasn’t got the ball. He can’t defend very well, simple as that.

Above and beyond everything else, Giovanni Trapattoni’s first big task when he took over as Ireland manager was to make us a harder team to beat. He’s succeeded in doing that, and Stephen Hunt has definitely played his part. In any case, the question of who should play on the left side of the Irish midfield may just be answered by the rejuvenation of Damien Duff, who appears to be rediscovering some of his old form. Damien impressed during Newcastle’s 2-2 draw with Everton, and even scored his side’s equalising goal.

Regardless of who Trapattoni chooses to fill the left-wing slot, I’m hopeful that we’ll win this time around. Interestingly, the game will take place almost exactly a year after the 1-1 draw in Croke Park, so it will give us a great indication of how far we’ve progressed under the new manager. One thing is for certain – Cyprus won’t be any different. They only have a limited amount of players to choose from, so they won’t have changed their style of play. But with the improvements that Ireland have made under Trapattoni, I’m optimistic we can win.

Elsewhere, it was certainly interesting to see Joe Kinnear’s expletive-ridden outburst at a Mirror journalist during a recent press conference. One point that should be made is that Joe created a similar kind of siege mentality at Wimbledon, and he didn’t care if the press or anyone else in the outside world didn’t like him. What Wimbledon were successful at was getting results. Now, the way Joe behaved at the press conference was not the way I – or probably 99% of people – would handle things, but I suspect Joe thought, “I need to do something dramatic at this club to get a response.” And he certainly succeeded, because the passion Newcastle played with against Everton was not something most of us would have expected.

It’s not even that it was calculated, I just think Joe’s approach was, “I’m here for six weeks as caretaker manager, and I don’t care whether they think I’m right or wrong. I’m here to get points for Newcastle, and if this is what it takes, this is what I’m going to do.” The other thing is that we’ve become used to bland interviews and managers who say absolutely nothing. Looking at Joe’s press conference, a certain amount of people – and I would count myself among them – actually enjoyed it and thought, “Good on ya, mate. I’m glad someone’s had a go.”

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