On Wednesday 14th November, 2012, the members of the England national squad stood amazed in the middle of a frenzied Friends arena. Zlatan Ibrahimovic had just struck his fourth goal in their International Friendly in outstanding and typically flamboyant fashion. Never one to be upstaged, the Swedish captain and inspirational talisman left everyone speechless with a demonstration of spectacular finishing which successfully upstaged Steven Gerrard’s 100th International cap- Also a feat of great magnitude, but a different kind of feat all together. The forward’s fourth will live long in the memory of anyone who watched it, an incredible over-head volley from a seemingly implausible distance and angle. A stark reminder of an elite player’s devastating ability.
Giovanni Trapattoni, who celebrated his 74th birthday on St. Patrick’s Day, however, affirms that his Ireland side can retain the unpredictable brilliance of Ibrahimovic. “Zlatan is Zlatan but I am very confident in our players. I have seen their confidence this morning and you just have to look at the game against Poland because the balance and the commitment and the technical ability that they showed, all of that makes me very, very confident.” This ‘confidence’ that inhibits the Irish squad would have seemed an unobtainable mental goal after they collapsed horribly to a ruthless German side in October to the tune of 1-6. After a dismal Euro 2012 campaign and arguably Trapattoni’s worst result in management at the hands of Germany, many began rumbling that a change in manager was appropriate and timely if Ireland were to resurrect their qualification bid for the World Cup in Brazil next summer.
In spite of this, the FAI decided not to relieve Trapattoni of his duties and give him the opportunity to prove his managerial tenacity in guiding Ireland to their first World Cup for eleven years. This Friday’s tie with Sweden provides Trapattoni with a vital lifeline. Victory against the Swede’s would mean leapfrogging them into second place and consolidating their chance of qualification. However, they come up against a mentally tough Swedish side who, again inspired by Ibrahimovic, miraculously fought back from 4-o down to grab a point in a thrilling 4-4 draw with Germany in October.
The incentive for Ireland is significant and Trapattoni will carefully consider his options to ensure Ireland come away with a crucial three points. Who the Italian deploys in the back-four could prove decisive in the containment of Sweden’s most dangerous attacking weapon. However, when asked if he would vigorously man-mark Zlatan, he replied: “Not at this moment, I don’t think so. I know how he is playing at the moment for his club but I have to think about our balance and how our strikers can put them under pressure too.” Man-marking Ibrahimovic may not be a defensive tool under consideration, but Trapattoni can be pleased with the fact that his defensive options are richer than what he had at his disposal for previous qualifiers. John O’Shea is vastly experienced and has come up against top players like Zlatan whilst playing for Manchester United, Sean St. Ledger is back from injury and could be used as is the case with Darren O’Dea.
Trapattoni’s decision-making is instrumental in the success or failure of his side and he has proven that he does not shy away from making the most headache-inducing decisions,namely omitting Kevin Doyle from his 23-man squad for the upcoming fixtures. This is the first time Trapattoni has not considered the 29-year old since being appointed manager in 2008 and portrays a distinct departure in admiration for the Wolves striker who was once described by the Italian as one of the best striker in Europe when on form. However, that form which contributed to Doyle’s tally of twelve international goals has evaporated and he has not proven himself worthy for competitive action at a crucial stage of the campaign.
“It was very difficult – but I have many difficult decisions to make. In the past, I had a lot difficulty building a team; now I am in difficulty when I choose the players. But I’m very happy that we have this quality. We have Robbie, who came back last week and has scored goals, and then we have Sammon, Cox and Shane Long. We have many.”
Robbie Keane, who recently confirmed that legendary Smiths front-man Morrisey is his cousin, will have to be in the right key if Ireland are to take that giant leap towards qualification and banish those painful memories of being cruelly denied a place in the previous World Cup. Defeat Sweden and successfully see out the rest of the campaign, a letter of congratulations signed Thierry Henry will surely be arriving in the post for Trapattoni and his men.