The battle to impress Giovanni Trapattoni
The prospect of competing in the World Cup finals in South Africa in 2010 should guarantee a vigorous Irish performance tomorrow against South Africa in the Thomond Park friendly (7.30 pm ko).
Much work still has to be done, of course, if Ireland are to qualify for South Africa but their win over Cyprus on Saturday brought the possibility that much closer.
Ireland must play two more qualifying ties at home to Italy and Montenegro and knowing they hold their destiny in their own hands is as much as anyone could have hoped for when the competition kicked-off twelve months ago.
The meeting of Italy and Bulgaria on Wednesday in Turin will tighten up further the number of possible outcomes to a competition that has been hugely competitive. It is a fact that Italy, Ireland and Bulgaria can still harbour ambitions of taking the one automatic qualifying spot by winning the group.
That means, of course, that the second, play-off, spot is also far from tied up so Ireland still have much work to do. And Giovanni Trapattoni will be looking at his fringe players against South Africa to see if one or two of them show they have the capability to contribute significantly.
It is logical to expect that Trapattoni will first look at those players who have been brought in as substitutes in the course of recent matches.
Caleb Folan comes into this category as does Shane Long, Andy Keogh, Eddie Nolan and Keiren Westwood.
Leon Best is a striker who showed his athleticism when he replaced Robbie Keane against Bulgaria while Stephen Kelly, Liam Lawrence and Darren O’Dea are players ready to convince the manager they are ready to step up and add to the overall strength of the team.
South Africa will host the World Cup finals so they did not have to qualify. The match represents an important test for them because of this as their players look to convince the manager of their entitlement to be included in the squad for the finals.
You can expect South Africa to be big, strong and hard-working and they will stretch Ireland. Their best-known players are Steven Pienaar of Everton and Aaron Mokoena of Portsmouth.
General reaction to Ireland’s narrow win in Cyprus and to the overall performance was not very flattering to Ireland. But with qualification so tantalisingly near and the memory of their 2-5 loss in the stadium three years previously undoubtedly on their minds, a level of caution was inevitable.
Ireland need not be afflicted with any degree of foreboding in this friendly match. And they will want to show their fans in Limerick that freed from the constraints of picking a pathway through a minefield littered with failed qualification attempts, they can play with more fluency and offer manager Giovanni Trapattoni more food for thought.
08/09/’09: Republic of Ireland V South Africa, Thomond Park 7.30 pm
The Ireland starting team to face South Africa is: Keiren Westwood (Coventry City); Stephen Kelly (Fulham), Sean St. Ledger (Preston North End), Paul McShane (Hull City), Eddie Nolan (Preston North End); Liam Lawrence (Stoke City), Darron Gibson (Manchester United), Keith Andrews (Blackburn Rovers), Andy Keogh (Wolves); Kevin Doyle (Wolves) - captain, Caleb Folan (Hull City).