Expect Ireland to improve against Italians as wooden spoon beckons
13:00, 18 Jun 2012
By Alan Smith, Soccer Correspondent
With nothing but the nation's pride to play for, you'd have been very much in the majority to ask for youth to be given its chance against Italy in Poznan tonight.
But knowing how stubborn our manager Giovanni Trapattoni, whose embellished tactical nous was shown up badly in the past eight days, is - was it ever going to be anything different than the usual line-up?
What must Darron Gibson, Shane Long and Stephen Hunt all be thinking having travelled to Poland and watched on from the fringes?
Not only would an experimental line-up this evening have given those unused squad members a morale boost and a sense of gratification from their increasingly-fallible manager, but it would also have given the fans who made their way east a relief from the mundane and error-ridden performances that quickly put an end to the party in Poland.
The wounds remain gapingly open following Thursday night's chastening dismantlement at the hands of La Roja but with the result has come an increasing pressure
Wouldn't it be a joy to see the team 'do a Paris' on it and shake off the shackles imposed by their overly-conservative boss and go out and play the way that they want to?
Discerning voices close to the camp have been saying that the team want to rid of a 4-4-2 system which has been proven to be dated in this tournament and although the team will once again line-out in that way tonight, there may be more emphasis on attack against an Azzurri side that lined up with a back three in their opening two games.
Even before a ball is kicked, the word conspiracy has been on the lips of many in the Italy camp.
They need a win to have any chance of making it into the quarter-finals but if Spain and Croatia tie their game and Italy defeat Ireland, all three teams will be tied on five points, meaning the top two to advance will be decided by a head-to-head.
If Spain and Croatia draw 2-2 or more that will see Italy go out regardless of their result against Ireland.
Mario Balotelli will miss out with a knee injury but manager Cesare Prandelli is expected to bring Antonio di Natale into the team in his place.
Asked if he was surprised that Ireland are already knocked out of the competition, Prandelli said: "Yes, quite honestly, I am.
"We have watched the Croatia game again and they had prepared for that game with a tactical approach.
"But then Ireland conceded a goal after just three minutes and they couldn't change the way the game went."
Yet pride, according to the Italian boss, is Ireland's big weapon.
He added: "They are a strong team and we need to be wary of them. They have got a lot of national pride and they have got a great ability to fight in games.
"As Marco Tardelli has said, they always go out for the win, and they want to give this gift to their many fans.
"There are a lot of different components here and that will make it a difficult game, of course."
For Ireland to lose would mean they'd go down as the worst team in the competition along with Holland, who ended up pointless in Group B.
A draw, however, would keep Ireland away from the metaphorical wooden spoon and certainly retain some pride after a torrid week.
Trap's pride is at stake too against his birth nation, so expect an improved Irish performance.
Whether that means they're capable of getting a result remains to be seen but it certainly won't be as bad as the hammering dished out by Spain last Thursday night.
Verdict: Italy 1-0 Ireland