Ireland v Croatia analysis: This was Russia without the luck
10:30, 11 Jun 2012
Last night, really, was from Russia without the luck.
Because, having improbably survived a series of scares in Moscow to secure the result that all but sealed a play-off place – and thereby qualification – Ireland endured a night in which all of the fears about Giovanni Trapattoni’s system came to the surface.
Quite simply, if you’re going to base your approach on defensive solidity, then you need to ensure you don’t many any slips.
And, while many may look to the greasy surface, the difficult conditions and some borderline decisions, that is also the point.
Trapattoni’s system is inherently hostage to fortune.
Last night, Ireland got none.
Although, Croatia, to be fair, created their own luck.
Because this is the second point about the system.
As that Russia game – and so many others, like Bulgaria home, France home, even Macedonia home – illustrated, it is now extremely risky to play a rigid midfield two against a modern, fluid central three.
As Slaven Bilic promised before the game, his team altered their counter-attacking game in order to properly get at Ireland and seize their best opportunity for a win in this group. They ruthlessly exploited the holes in Ireland’s framework.
Indeed, Bilic’s comments after the game made for painful listening for Irish fans. But they were also understandable and revealing.
“I was expecting this kind of result. We were preparing for this victory. We knew everything about this Irish team. We knew we were a better team.”
As Bilic indicated, they had studied every aspect of Ireland.
The only issue is it doesn’t exactly take long to study. Ireland are entirely predictable and, therefore, relatively easy to prepare against.
From there, it’s just a hope that your moves against them come off. Croatia’s emphatically did... not least Mario Mandzukic’s supremely taken headers.
As such, it now seems highly unlikely that Ireland will replicate Greece 2004. Rather, they might be like Greece 2008: out in the first round.
And that raises a further point. Trapattoni has namechecked Otto Rehhagel’s side at many pints over the last four years.
But the key to that Greek team wasn’t just their defensive resilience but also their innovation. Rehhagel adapted and altered their formation in every game. Trapattoni does not do that.
Of course, we can’t be overly critical of his approach. It’s been a – literally – qualified success.
It’s taken us this far. The problem is that it doesn’t seem to have enough to take Ireland any further.
To put Ireland's task into some kind of context, they must beat one of the last two world champions.
In the last 11 years, however, Ireland have only beaten one side that were ranked above them: Slovakia in 2007.
Now, they don't just need the luck of Moscow. They need a miracle.
Miguel Delaney is a European football journalist who writes for the Evening Herald, the Irish Examiner, ESPN, the London Independent and ourselves. In 2011, he was nominated for Irish sports journalist of the year.
Follow him @migueldelaney
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