Preview: Ireland v Germany

by Brian Strahan

“When I have thought about it at all, I have planned out this World Cup with us losing to Germany.  In my mind’s eye, I don’t see us beating them.” 

These were Niall Quinn’s words a decade ago in his autobiography, as he reflected on Ireland’s second group game, at the 2002 World Cup.  It would be interesting to know how much of the Irish set up in Malahide is considering this possibility at present.  Can they sense redemption for a marginally berated team and more so management set up?  Or have we learnt from Poland that misguided optimism is just a precursor to hurt.

Lansdowne Road will welcome a decent contingent of German support on Friday evening, providing a rare sell out crowd which should make for a fervent atmosphere, in the build up and early stages at least.  That Ireland can take this game to a team, unquestionably with greater depth and strength, is a tall ask.  But if we can allow those dark June performances abscond from our memories momentarily, Irish teams are often at their best against imposing opposition.

There is a marginal chink in the German armour in that the usual cohesion in the ranks isn’t as prevalent as in eras past.  This German side has more expression and creativity then would have been associated in previous sides.  And with such style come the players and personalities that create it.

There is also talk of a palpable sense of flatness for the first time in the attitude surrounding Joachim Loew’s side.  Tension has also been mooted, something reflected in some of the finger pointing for Austria’s goal in Germanys 2-1 win in Vienna in September.  Phillip Lahm, who will miss this week’s match through suspension, was publicly accused of being out of position by team-mate Mats Hummels, for the home sides only goal.

But nervous hands grasping at flimsy straws aside, the German team that takes the pitch on Friday evening will be a particularly strong one and ominously their approach is being tweaked to rely less on counter attacking football and more on attacking from the front and closing down.

Bastian Schweinsteiger returns to the German midfield after missing the Austria match and will link up with Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira in front of a German defence that will include Arsenal’s Per Metersacker. Leverkusen’s Lars Bender is injured so should be replaced by Jerome Boateng.

The attacking options appear unlimited and the likes of Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Mario Gotze, Marco Reus, Mesut Ozil and Lukas Podolski are all in competition for three places.  With Mario Gomez injured, Miroslav Klose’s start up front is assured.

If Ireland are to learn anything from Germany’s recent performances it’s that to hurt them you need to attack them and Ireland will set themselves up in such a way that the potential to do just that is there.  But the mindset will need to follow.

With Keith Fahey and James McCarthy likely to start in a three-man midfield, Ireland will have two players capable of retaining possession and delivering some accurate passes if given the support to do so from management.  Keith Andrews if given the chance, likes to break forward as he showed as Irelands only real attacking player in Poland.  He could be Ireland’s greatest threat on the break along with the trickery of Aiden McGeady on the left wing.  The right wing will most likely see Simon Cox take up the unorthodox position favoured for him by Trapattoni.  The 4-3-3 is realistically a 4-5-1 set up and Cox has consistently looked uncomfortable in that position.  What’s more relevant is the ineffectiveness his performances there have had.

In Stoke’s recent narrow league defeat to Chelsea, Jonathon Walters played in this position and proved effective.  His presence in midfield unsettling Chelsea’s more fluid midfield, but more importantly when Stoke attacked he showed the ability to move centrally at pace and was at the centre of Stoke’s best chance.

An Achilles injury scare meant Robbie Keane missed Wednesday’s training.  However he is likely to start in a lone role that doesn’t suit his game yet seems tailor made for Shane Long.  As one Irish footballing commentator pointed out this week, if Long came on as a seventieth minute substitute against the Germans and scored a hat trick, he would probably still be on the bench against the Faroe Islands on Tuesday.

Keiren Westwood will start in goal behind Darren O’Dea and John O’Shea.  Despite his limitations again exposed in Kazakhstan, Stephen Ward will start.  The right back position is apparently up for grabs.  Stephen Kelly will most likely start ahead of Paul McShane and Seamus Coleman despite Coleman being the only one of the three currently not firmly rooted to the substitutes bench at club level.

A fervent atmosphere and caution dispersed into the cold October night might provide spells of excitement form Ireland.  But so much will depend on the game plan from Trapattoni and in that lays the likelihood of a defeat and a comfortable three points for the visiting side.

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