Ireland’s system found out

In amongst the turgid, dreary and seriously lack on insightful commentary on the Ireland-Croatia game on ITV last night, there was one comment that stood out for its dreadfulness.

It wasn’t the fact that it took Peter Drury and Jim Beglin around six replays to figure out the last Croatian goal was an own goal (I mean, come on) but a comment from Beglin in the last ten minutes or so that the reason for Ireland’s loss was a lack of “spirit and belief in their play” or words to that effect.

In the past, when British and Irish teams fail in international football, the tendency would always be to refer to this reason, as Jonathan Wilson points out repeatedly in his book on the history of the England football The Anatomy of England. Little heed paid to a lack of quality in the ranks of the British Isles representatives or superior technical skills of the opposition but a firm belief that a bit of Home Nations grit and “getting it up em” will see us through and every time it didn’t, there wasn’t enough of it on show.

Thankfully we appear to live in more enlightened times vis a vis football punditry, aside from this comment from Beglin, the general reaction to Ireland’s defeat was that Croatia just had too much quality from them.

Ireland’s set up means that if they concede early, they will struggle to chase the game as they’re set up to be solid and difficult to break down. Under Giovanni Trapattoni, this system has clearly been a success as their first successful qualification for a major international tournament in a decade as was their run of undefeated games in the lead up to the match last night.

The policy of using both their central midfielders as defensive screens and relying on their quality out wide and the running of their centre forwards was hugely successful.

However, when uncharacteristic mistakes in defence were made not once but arguably thrice, Ireland lack the quality to chase the game and their system of two solid banks of four becomes something of a hindrance and their lack of overall quality shows. If a team scores first against Ireland, they invariably win.

The simple fact of the matter is that the quality of player that Croatia could call upon outshone the Irish and, despite this, Keith Andrews had two good chances, Robbie Keane may have had a penalty and an uncharacteristic mistakes could still have changed the outcome which is testiment to the tactical organisation Trapattoni has instilled in his team.

Ultimately though, whatever system Ireland used last night, the quality of their opposition will have told at some point. 4-4-2 was the most solid option for the Irish to pursue and to rely on the tried and tested formula that saw them through the qualifying stages of Euro 2012.

This was the game that Ireland needed to win to see them through to the quarter finals but that will not happen now. But, the fact remains that getting this far is a massive success for Ireland and, without wanting to get the big book of patronising clichés out, whatever happens in their remaining group games, their fans should be proud of their team for getting this far.


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