by Ed Leahy
The Republic of Ireland can move into second place in Group C with victory over Austria in tonight’s World Cup qualifier at Aviva Stadium, kick-off 7:45pm.
And while Friday's night's performance and result have lifted hopes of Ireland’s chances of qualifying out of the group on the road to Rio, manager Giovanni Trapattoni’s team selection has, once again, raised eyebrows ahead of this must-win clash with Austria.
Robbie Keane’s injury opened up a place in attack, and as a result, it was no shock to see Kevin Doyle called up to the squad from the stand-by list.
The surprise, however, comes in the selection of Conor Sammon to replace the Ireland captain, which shows us a lot about Trapattoni’s approach to tonight’s encounter.
Rewind to Friday's encounter in Stockholm. With 15 minutes to play, Wes Hoolahan was introduced to replace Keane – jumping ahead of Simon Cox in the manager’s reckoning – and it seemed the natural replacement, especially as Ireland were starting to get the upper hand.
So with the skipper missing out through injury, surely this was a chance for the manager to show some faith in Hoolahan and start the former Shelbourne play-maker in the pocket behind Shane Long.
But Trapattoni has instead opted for the polar opposite of Hoolahan and named Sammon to partner Long in attack.
Robbie Keane’s role on Friday night was, in theory, to link up play between midfield and attack, and create some chances for himself and strike partner Shane Long.
But Keane spent most of the night doing the donkey work in midfield, putting pressure on the Sweden players and their ability to pass the ball through the centre of the park.
And while Keane received the plaudits for doing that job effectively, the question has to be asked, why the skipper was asked to do this job, when a younger, fitter player’s energy could have been better utilised to put pressure on that Swedish midfield.
Was Trapattoni afraid to bring more attention to his tactics by dropping his loyal captain?
Had Hoolahan been selected to start tonight, it may have been a natural changing of the guard with the Norwich midfielder getting an opportunity to convince the manager of his ability to play Keane’s role.
But with Sammon leaping up the pecking order, it shows that the manager has no intention of dropping his captain in the immediate future, nor has he the belief that Hoolahan is capable of fulfilling that second striker role.
"We don't know how Austria will play. Will they come and press us or will they stay and wait for us?” said Trapattoni.
"Will they wait for us and hit us on the counter-attack, or will they come and put pressure on us? Will they give us the space or will we have to find the space? That's why we need these two fast players."
These comments explain, in part, the selection of the “fast players” Long and Sammon, but it also give us an insight into the mindset of Trapattoni, as he appears to be wondering more about how the opposition will play as opposed to how he sets out a team, playing at home, to win a match against presumed inferior opposition.
But perhaps the manager is softening his stance a little about the role of the central midfielder by leaving James McCarthy in the side instead of reverting to his preferred midfield for Friday, which was Glenn Whelan and Paul Green.
McCarthy’s performance on Friday night appears to have convinced the manager that the Wigan man is capable of playing to the system when chasing possession as well as being able to create when on the ball.
Playing McCarthy as well as Hoolahan may just have been a little too ambitious for the manager as he obviously sees the centre of the pitch as an area where mistakes are made, rather than where chances are created.
Trapattoni appears much more willing to allow for creativity on the flanks, where in the past he has allowed the likes of Damien Duff and Aiden McGeady free rein to create and attack.
James McClean’s influence will now take on a bigger role in the Ireland attack and the manager will have been encouraged by his performance on Friday where he was running at players at will and getting plenty of joy out wide.
Jonathan Walters remains in the eleven and while he would not be renowned for his wing-wizardry, he will play a vital role tucking into midfield to help out with defensive duties, while Seamus Coleman is capable of overlapping on that right side, which may allow Walters to get into a more natural striker’s role when Ireland are attacking.
The Austrians have already proved their pedigree, just losing out 2-1 to Germany last September, and are arriving into the game full of confidence with ten goals in their last two Group C fixtures, albeit against the two weaker nations, Kazakhstan and the Faroe Islands.
And it is perhaps this goalscoring threat that has stopped Trapattoni from taking a chance on an all-out attacking style.
Philipp Hosiner is a newcomer to the national team, scoring twice on Friday night, however, the 23-year-old has scored 22 league goals for his club Austria Vienna this season.
Several key players are plying their trade in the Bundesliga and Bayern Munich’s left-back David Alaba plays in midfield for the national side, while Mainz’s attacking midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz and Marko Arnautovic who plays his club football at Werder Bremen is another of the Austria midfield with an eye for goal.
Trabzonspor’s Marc Janko, scored two goals in the 4-0 victory over Kazakhstan and may return to Austria’s starting XI.
But sucking the life out of the opposition attack is what the tried and tested Trapattoni system is designed to perform.
So as long as the new-look Ireland attack can create and convert a couple of chances at the Lansdowne Road venue tonight, the three points should be secured and with it second spot in the Group C, for the time being, at least.
Ireland XI: Forde, Coleman, O’Shea, Clark, Wilson, Walters, Whelan, McCarthy, McClean, Sammon, Long.
Austria XI (probable): Lindner; Garics, Dragovic, Pogatetz, Fuchs (capt); Ivanschitz, Arnautovic, Alaba, Baumgartlinger or Leitgeb, Junuzovic; Hosiner.
Live television coverage of Rep of Ireland v Austria from 7pm on Tuesday 26 March on RTÉ Two and RTE.ie (RoI only). Live radio coverage on Game On on RTÉ 2fm and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide) from 7pm.