Qualification covers cracks as Irish dare to dream
Those who arrived late to the Republic of Ireland’s party in Dublin could be forgiven for wondering what was going on as 10 years of hurt were banished and Euro 2012 qualification was assured.
Ten years to the day after they last secured qualification for a major tournament (beating Iran in a playoff to make the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea), the Irish rounded off a resounding 5-1 aggregate victory over Estonia to book their place at Euro 2012.
As with any celebration, it would have been rude to point out that the hosts had not exactly shone during qualifying as they struggled against sides from both ends of the table.
Dismantled at home by a technically superior Russia, they struggled before finally overcoming the group’s supposed weaker sides, Macedonia and Andorra.
The Irish simply never looked comfortable on the ball during the whole campaign, appearing much more organised when defending.
Captain Robbie Keane may have scored seven goals in the campaign, but he has been criticised for needing too many chances to get on the scoresheet.
Midfielders Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews were slated for their seeming inability to create in the centre of the park, whilst on the wing Spartak Moscow’s Aiden McGeady was thrilling and frustrating in equal measure.
But anyone seeking to criticise the pragmatic football played by Giovanni Trapattoni’s side will have problems explaining away the Italian’s record – two qualification campaigns, two playoff places, one major finals and an Henry handball and penalty shootout away from qualifying for the World Cup in South Africa.
And Trapattoni is not done yet. The post-match press conference in Dublin was delayed as hordes of fans, officials and well-wishers congratulated the Italian and his team on bringing the Irish back to the biggest stages in world football.
Asked if they could repeat the shock Euro titles of Denmark (1992) and Greece (2004), Trappatoni answered: “Why not?
“Never say never. The Estonian manager said that Ireland were the favourite, but in football there is no favourite.”
He also revealed that he would stand by his commitment to Football Association of Ireland chairman John Delaney to climb Croagh Patrick, a 764-metre high place of pilgrimage in the west of Ireland where St Patrick is said to have fasted for 40 days.
Having led the Irish out of the footballing wilderness, Trappatoni – born on St Patrick’s Day in 1939 – now has the chance to go a step further and he seems convinced he can do it, even saying he would like to stay for the World Cup campaign.
But much like St Patrick, Ireland will have a mountain to climb if they are to repeat the European successes of the Danes and the Greeks.