Ireland have huge World Cup incentive

Ireland have huge World Cup incentive

The visit of reigning world champions represents a very special attraction ...
9th Oct 2009


The visit of reigning world champions represents a very special attraction at any time, all the more so when precious World Cup points are at stake.

Add into the mix the presence of the two beat goalkeepers in the world, two of the most decorated and respected team managers and a line-up of top players and the Ireland v Italy match assumes a unique importance.

Italy go into the game as favourites. They need just a point to win the group and qualify automatically for the finals in South Africa in 2010. Ireland need to beat them and Montenegro next Wednesday and hope Cyprus can surprise Italy if they are to deny them top spot.

Italy's results in the current campaign have been so consistently good as to underline their ability to capitalise even when their form may not be at a peak. Italy have been regularly criticised by their own supporters this season but that, to a great extent, relates to their standing as champions after their World Cup success in Germany in 2006.

Italy showed remarkable tenacity in that tournament and their experience of big-time championship football stood to them as they battled through to the final against France. And, in typical Italian fashion, they beat France in a penalty shoot-out after a 1-1 drawn match.

Italy's manager, Marcello Lippi, has used this World Cup qualifying series to bring in a number of younger players to fill in alongside World Cup winners like Buffon, Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Grosso, Pirlo, Camoranesi, Gattuso and company.

He has to plan without his defensive co-ordinator, the hugely experienced Cannavaro, but Lippi will stick with the tried and trusted for this match. He can be expected to include up to six players from Juventus in his team - Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Fabio Grosso, Nicola Legrottaglie in defence, midfielder Mauro Camoranesi and Vincenzo Iaquinta, normally a striker but expected to be on the left.

Lippi's opposite number, Giovanni Trapattoni, has shown the same consistency in his team selections in the seventeen months he has been in charge. The inclusion of Liam Lawrence on the right wing in place of the injured Damien Duff represents the only departure from recent team selections.

Lawrence earned his selection by his performance in the recent friendly against South Africa and, obviously, by his good form in training. His accurate crossing, his athletic ability and his capacity for hard work will all be needed as Ireland look to curb the attacking inclinations of the powerful Grosso on Italy's left and Zambrotta on their right.

It would be rash not to expect Italy to pick up the points they need to secure automatic qualification for South Africa from their remaining two matches - they play Cyprus at home on Wednesday in their final match. But Ireland will be committed to denying them at Croke Park and they will take encouragement from their own performances.

The four points advantage that Italy enjoy over Ireland in the league table resulted from a win over Bulgaria at home and an away win over Montenegro - Ireland drew those two particular matches.

Ireland will host a visit from Montenegro in their final match in the first phase on Wednesday next at Croke Park at the same time as Italy will play Cyprus. Ireland would have loved to still be within reach of winning the group through their own initiative for this visit of Italy but they will still be hopeful.

They will chase the win that will force Italy to go into their final game against Cyprus with a little more concern and under a lot more pressure because they will need those three points to hold off Ireland's challenge - provided Ireland can then beat Montenegro.

Ireland know they are capable of doing that if they play to form. They were well worth their draw with Italy in Bari when Robbie Keane ensured a division of the points by scoring in the 88th minute after Iaquinta had given Italy a 10th minute lead.

Lippi and his experienced players have spoken of their respect for Ireland this past week and that came as no surprise given the powerful challenge Ireland mounted in Bari. And remember Ireland were without Damien Duff then also, as well as Aiden McGeady. Sean St. Ledger had yet to play his first game for Ireland at that point.

Italy's captivating mix of the old and the new and their particular brand of technical, precise football will present Ireland with a formidable task. But Ireland will be confident, well-balanced and organised and bristling with the type of resolve that will only be satisfied with a win and three priceless points.

Everything adds up to an match of great consequence and of rare enjoyment at Croke Park ! And what an intriguing incentive it presents for Ireland - a victory over the World champions and three priceless World Cup points in the bag would represent a rich pay day indeed.