[Frontpage]Armenia v Ireland Preview

Ireland kick off their Euro 2012 qualification campaign with a visit to Armenia tomorrow. This has all the hallmarks of a “tricky away tie” with the distance travelled, the expected heat, the allegedly bumpy pitch and a supposedly hostile crowd all combining to upset Irish hopes.

Ireland are far from full-strength with Duff, O’Dea, McShane, Andrews, Treacy and Hunt all ruled out through injuries. This isn’t a squad that can cope easily with key absences but despite criticisms of Trapattoni’s conservative selection policy it is significant that he won’t be calling on anyone lacking in experience to start the game in Yerevan.

There has been much talk of the lack of game time enjoyed by some key players at club level and there are plenty of the squad who are out of favour with their respective managers at present. In truth however the season is only a couple of weeks old and there should be no massive fitness or sharpness concerns over those who participated in full pre-season campaigns with their clubs.

The back four is, as ever, three-quarters of a decent unit with Dunne, St Leger and O’Shea all more than comfortable at this level. O’Shea has matured into a very reliable player for Ireland and has coped well with filling in at full back or centre half. Dunne and St Leger have developed a partnership and understanding now in an area that looked particularly vulnerable in the recent nightmare of Staunton’s regime. Kilbane is less than assured at left back, though thankfully the prospect of McShane or O’Dea providing emergency cover at full back is removed from the equation. Kilbane is experienced enough to compensate for his weaknesses by positioning himself conservatively. While he has been error prone in recent matches he remains solid enough when attacking the ball - his problems nearly always stem from getting caught with a ball in behind or when faced with a winger running at him. The latter is largely unavoidable unfortunately, but the former worries can be negated with a narrower and deeper starting position.

The midfield has Trapattoni’s usual balance of two central players required to shield the defence and retain possession and two wingers who are required to bridge the defenders and central midfielders with the strikers. Neither McGeady nor Lawrence are approaching this game with any sort of fitness thanks to prolonged transfers and recent injuries but the options out wide are very thin on the ground. The natural selection of McGeady on the left and Lawrence on the right might cause concerns with McGeady and Kilbane possibly too vulnerable defensively on the same flank so we may see the more industrious Lawrence switching to the left flank.

The wingers are an essential component of Trapattoni’s Irish system and they will be relied on to provide whatever spark and creativity is required. Both should be motivated to impress at club level after their recent moves so hopefully that translates into renewed enthusiasm for their efforts with Ireland.

Paul Green replaces the injured Keith Andrews in the heart of the midfield after impressing in recent friendly internationals. Ireland won’t lose much with this change as Andrews has been less than brilliant lately and is another who is struggling to get games with his club. Whelan has developed into one of Ireland’s most important players and it’s important that he continues to contribute accurately and frequently in the middle of the park.

Doyle and Keane are two players who Ireland can’t afford to lose, especially in games where there are notions of victory. The goalscoring record of Keane and the work ethic of Doyle dovetail excellently and as there are no goalscoring alternatives at the moment (and there isn’t even a real contender to be next in line), the importance of this pairing cannot be overstated.

The relative strength of the first team is welcome, particulary given the notable absentees, but there are real concerns about the quality of the bench. Cunningham, Kelly and Foley comprise the defensive cover (with O’Shea’s versatility a real factor), Gibson is the extent of the midfield options and Keogh, Long and Sheridan represent the attacking options.

Armenia are a real unknown quantity as far as household names are concerned. Much has been made of their impressive home record but the reality is they finished comfortably bottom of their World Cup qualifying group with one win and one draw from 10 matches. Their victory came at the expense of Belgium who also lost in Estonia and Bosnia, as well as Spain, in that campaign. They drew 2-2 with Estonia and that point was Estonia’s only point away from home in qualifying. They are reasonable results when viewed in isolation but the top 3 teams all won in Armenia and Ireland should be expecting the same.

Their most obvious dangerman is Henrikh Mkhitaryan who recently moved to Shakhtar Donetsk after impressive spells with Pyunik Yerevan and Metalurh Donetsk saw him move for €6m in the summer. Worryingly, he has form against Ireland - he managed a hat trick against Ireland Under 21s last year:
<object width=“425” height="355]<param name=“movie” value="http://youtube.com/v/SrwDk3H_q24]<param name=“wmode” value="transparent]<embed src=“http://youtube.com/v/SrwDk3H_q24” type=“application/x-shockwave-flash” wmode=“transparent” width=“425” height="355]

Ireland’s away form has improved under Trapattoni and the familiar system and the experienced personnel should be enough to secure a victory. Injuries have made the assignment trickier than it might have been but a win in Armenia whould be well within the reach of this Irish side. Yerevan won’t be the easiest venue this team will play in this year but the truth is there won’t be many easier opponents. A draw wouldn’t be a disaster but a win should be the sole aim.

but despite criticisms of Trapattoni’s conservative selection policy it is significant that he won’t be calling on anyone lacking in experience to start the game in Yerevan

It will be Paul Green’s first competitive cap for the ROI tonight.

Would disagree about Doyle and Keane dovetailing nicely also. I think they struggle as a partnership. The only game I remember them combining for a goal was in one of the summer friendlies. The distance between them in games is a factor imo.

Betting wise I thought we would be a bit shorter than 4/6. Armenia +1 at 11/10 is tempting but since I have no idea what they are like guess will stay away. Will prob throw a tenner on Richard Dunne at 13/1 to score at any time. Seems very big that considering set pieces will probably be our sole threat.

We need to score early on as I feel we have a lot of players that will be struggling past the 70mins mark. We could badly do with Kevin Doyle providing more of a goal threat but for that we need the crossing of the wide players in particular McGeady to be a lot better than usual.

It’s Green’s first competitive cap alright but the point is that he has been involved in the last few friendlies so he’s used to the system. People accuse Trap of not using the friendlies wisely but rather than make 10 changes and play a bunch of strangers together he’s identified a few key players who need to get game time and they’ve got it.

I think there’s more to a strike partnership than assists for goals. They hold the ball up well together, they generally succeed at getting at least one in the box for crosses and don’t get in one another’s way. They don’t play that close together but Trap’s system forces us to attack down the wings anyway and that’s the main source of our goals. I’d be a bit concerned about our reliance on set pieces and our wingers for creating goals but that’s more of a function of our style of play than an indictment of our strikers.

In the last qualifying campaign we scored against:
Georgia away - 2 goals. Doyle header from a cross and Whelan long shot
Cyprus home - 1 goal. Keane header from Duff cross
Georgia home - 2 goals. Keane penalty and Keane header from McGeady cross
Bulgaria home - 1 goal. Dunne goal from Hunt cross
Italy away - 1 goal. Keane shot from long ball and Folan flick
Bulgaria away - 1 goal. Dunne header from Hunt cross
Cyprus away - 2 goals. Doyle goal after Hunt cross wasn’t cleared. Keane goal from Duff cross.
Italy home - 2 goals. Whelan long shot (from a sort of cross) and St Ledger header from Hunt cross.

That’s 12 goals scored in total and 7 of those were directly from crosses, 1 goal after a cross wasn’t cleared, 2 were long shots, 1 was a long ball and 1 penalty. If you stop our wingers and don’t give away silly frees then we have a problem.