Ireland v Turkey: 3 Reasons to be cheerful

1. Wes Hoolahan

The Norwich midfielder was the standout performer for Ireland at the Aviva yesterday. After a frustrating season which saw his chances limited at Carrow Road, Hoolahan was at the heart of much that was good about Ireland’s play. It was he who provided the perfectly weighted ball for Jonathan Walters consolation goal.

At 32 years of age, Hoolahan is hardly a long term solution to Ireland’s creativity problems. However for the upcoming Euro campaign, should he see enough game-time at club level, he will be a valuable asset to Martin O’Neill.

2. Plenty of chances.

Hoolahan aside, there was a creative spark to the Irish play that was rarely evident under Trappatoni. Ireland should certainly have been ahead before Turkey’s opening goal, after Aiden McGeady’s inch-perfect through ball to Shane Long led to a penalty shout that was inexplicably waved away.

McGeady regularly dazzles out wide before failing to whip in an accurate cross. Yesterday though he caused the Turkish defence some real concern with his final ball. Twice James McClean could have done better with efforts resulting from a McGeady cross.

Ireland as a team seem more patient under Martin O’Neill, preferring to pass the ball sideways and backwards and wait for an opening rather than just hoofing the ball forward and hoping the strikers can get a head on it. Several times yesterday Irish players attempted defence-splitting passes which were just a little too far ahead of their intended targets. The accuracy might not be there yet, but that’s what this run of four friendly games is for. Ironing out the creases.

3. Far from the finished product.

While O’Neill put out quite a strong team yesterday, there are still some key players and exciting prospects to join up with the squad either for the remainder of these summer friendlies or ahead of the Euro campaign.

Robbie Keane is busy scoring goals in the MLS but it’s a given what he can do at this stage. Richard Dunne and Kevin Doyle are other stalwarts who have just helped QPR attain Premier League status once more.

Most exciting however, is the prospect of seeing what Jeff Hendrick can do if given further opportunities in the Ireland set up. While he and Derby County team-mate Richard Keogh must be devastated following the Championship play-off loss to QPR, Hendrick’s performances for the Rams all season have earmarked him as a dynamic option in Ireland’s midfield.

Underwhelming United, merry Mourinho and Sunderland’s sigh of relief: 3 talking points from the weekend’s Premier League action

Manchester United’s problems aren’t just managerial:

After such a convincing victory against Norwich last weekend, there were calls from certain quarters for Ryan Giggs to be handed the Manchester United manager post on a full-time basis. Sub-keeper Anders Lindegaard reckoned the Welshman could be the next Pep Guardiola.

Saturday’s loss at home to Sunderland has brought the Red Devils right back to earth, and highlighted the shortcomings on the field that will have to be addressed no matter who the manager is next season.

United have nothing but pride to play for at this stage of the season, but the ability to dominate sides in the midfield hasn’t been evident for quite a while. None of Carrick, Cleverley, Fellaini or Fletcher strike terror in the hearts of opposing teams the way Yaya Toure does for Manchester City, or Aaron Ramsey at his best for Arsenal.

Change may take place in the dug-out this summer, but personnel changes in the centre of the park are just as vital.


Jose Mourinho has a sense of humour:

In the aftermath of a turgid nil-all draw with Norwich on Sunday, Jose Mourinho complained that only one team had attempted to play football. Surprisingly, that team was Chelsea.

Norwich City have been absolutely awful in front of goal this season, and at Stamford Bridge they sat deep and attempted to catch Chelsea on the counter, rather than going gung-ho at a team that could punish them.

Sitting deep and hitting teams on the counter is something that Chelsea have done with varied results in the recent past. It worked against Liverpool and categorically didn’t against Atletico Madrid. It doesn’t matter if it’s pleasing to the eye, football is a results game and Mourinho’s teams exemplify that mind-set more than most.

The Portuguese coach knows full well the reputation his team has for playing negative football, and you can imagine him turning a corner after giving his post match comments about Norwich yesterday, and laughing his head off.


Sunderland’s detractors need to take a look at  themselves:

A team that takes 7 of a possible 9 points against the two Manchester Clubs and Chelsea deserves to stay up. Sunderland have done just that and with Saturday’s victory at Old Trafford they look almost certain to beat the drop.

Going into the game against United, Gus Poyet’s team had a cloud hanging over them due to the threat of a points deduction. Norwich, Cardiff and Fulham had joined to petition the FA regarding Sunderland’s fielding of an ineligible player.

The Black Cats had already been fined by the FA for playing Ji Dong-Won in four games at the start of the season without international clearance from FIFA, but the three teams below them were desperate to drag Sunderland deeper into the relegation dog-fight.

Unfortunately for them, there is no rule that forces the FA to dock points in a scenario such as Sunderland found themselves in. Fulham and Cardiff were relegated at the weekend, and Norwich are favourites to join them next weekend.

Sunderland have fought their way out of the relegation zone with their results in the run-in. If the teams below them want to lay the blame for their relegation somewhere, they’d be best served to look at their own performances.






Lucky loans, Coleman’s class, and mid-table mediocrity: 3 talking points after the weekend’s Premier League action

Loan players strike again:

After all the talk about players loaned from Stamford Bridge, there was a touch of irony that it was Chelsea who suffered at the hands of a loan player on Saturday. One from title rivals Liverpool no less. Fabio Borini scored the penalty which gave Sunderland a much needed three points and condemned Jose Mourinho to his first home defeat in 77 games.

There may have been controversy over whether Chelsea should have been awarded a spotkick before Sunderland were, but Gus Poyet and his team won’t mind. Their luck had to change sometime.

The defeat for Chelsea means they must go to Anfield and win next week to stand a chance of winning the Premier League. Brendan Rodgers might have enough forward talent at his disposal right now, but the least the Liverpool manager could do is send Fabio Borini a very large Easter egg.


Seamus Coleman’s wonderful season:

His manager recently described him as one of the best full-backs in the world, and his man of the match performance against Manchester United will have done Seamus Coleman’s burgeoning reputation no harm either.

The Donegal man has scored six goals in the league from right back this campaign, but it is his marauding runs from his own half deep into enemy territory that have really caught the eye. He has a wonderful ability to control the ball at pace and an eye for a pass too. It was his through ball that set up Kevin Mirallas for Everton’s second goal today.

Leighton Baines has been a key player for Everton for a long time now, and with Coleman on the other side of the defence the Toffees can probably claim to have the best full back pairing in the league.

Irish fans will hope that Coleman can be as effective in a green jersey as he has been in blue when the qualification campaign for Euro 2016 begins in September.


Mid-table a kind of purgatory:

When there’s nothing left to play for bar league position, it seems that some teams find it difficult to motivate themselves for the end of season run-in. Spurs, Manchester United and Southampton have all been unpredictable in the last few games, but no team seems to be looking forward to the summer holidays as much as Newcastle United.

The Magpies have lost their last five games in the league, most recently at home to Swansea on Saturday. Their poor run of form has coincided with Alan Pardew’s stadium ban, but a lack of motivation has to be a factor too. They have been at the wrong end of some hammerings lately, but on Saturday it was a lack of focus which let them down. Wilfried Bony struck twice for Swansea at the end of each half, with Newcastle players seemingly thinking of the comfort of the dressing room.

Newcastle fans are getting restless, and rightly so. Liverpool fans will be happy though. If Newcastle are this lacklustre with a few games to go, how bad will they be when they come to Anfield for a potentially crucial clash on the last day of the season?

3 talking points after weekend’s FA Cup and Premier League action

Pressure is on Liverpool from here on out.

Yesterday’s victory over Manchester City makes Liverpool the outright favourites for the title. They may still have to play Chelsea but their form is such that they should fear no one at Anfield.

In the run up to yesterday’s crucial clash with City, Brendan Rodgers did all he could to take the pressure off of his side. He pointed to the expectations of both sides at the beginning of the season and told the press that all the scrutiny was on Manuel Pellegrini’s expensively assembled outfit. Rodgers can’t expect anyone to buy the “no pressure line” from here on out.

It doesn’t matter if you start the season hoping to make the Champions League or to just avoid relegation; if you are top of the table with 4 games left the pressure is no longer on the teams below you. No matter how understanding your fans are, or how calm the players appear in interviews, expectations rise and nerves jangle.

Liverpool go to Norwich next weekend with the Canaries desperately battling against the drop. Jordan Henderson, a stand out performer all season, is suspended for three games after a rash tackle late on yesterday.

It goes without saying but every game Liverpool play from here on out will be tougher than the last. The weight of 24 years is upon them.

Arsenal celebrate close call against Wigan.

Arsenal players’ celebrations in the aftermath of Saturday’s FA cup semi-final were worthy of FA Cup champions. Perhaps it was the adrenalin coursing through the veins following a penalty shoot-out, or relief at still being in the hunt for silverware this season, but celebrating a win over a Championship side (even if they are current FA Cup holders) is not something to shout about.

It’s unlikely that former Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira, or indeed his nemesis Roy Keane, would find something worth celebrating in such a narrow win. For much of Saturday’s game it looked like Wigan would be on their way to a second consecutive FA Cup final. The Latics were aggressive and persistent in closing down Arsenal and in players like Callum McManaman they had the ability to worry the Gunners’ defenders.

Arsene Wenger may yet leave at the end of this season, and if he is to leave Arsenal the gift of a first trophy in almost a decade then his side will have to perform much better in May’s decider against Hull City.

Luck plays a part at both ends of the league.

Everton went to Sunderland at the weekend desperate to leapfrog Arsenal into the fourth and final Champion’s League spot. Their opponents needed a win to kickstart a climb from the bottom of the table.

The two sides huffed and puffed for the majority of the game, with few standout performers. Gerard Delofeu was perhaps the most likely to make a difference and in the 75th minute it was his cross that deflected off of Wes Brown and past a stricken Vito Mannone.

With such tight margins at the top and bottom of the table, that one goal could go a long way to seeing Sunderland relegated and Everton playing in the Champions League. Such is football.

Bayern Munich vs Manchester United as it happened

After Real Madrid and Chelsea secured their places in the Champions League semi-finals last night, there are two more spots up for grabs at the Allianz Arena and the Vicente Calderon tonight.

With the score 1-1 in both games, Bayern Munich host Manchester United while Atletico Madrid welcome Barcelona to the Spanish capital.

This live blog will have regular updates on the Bayern-United game, but I’ll keep you informed of important goings on in Spain too.

Manchester United had concern over Wayne Rooney but he appears to have recovered enough to start the game tonight. Marouane Fellaini and Rafael sat out United’s last training session yesterday and won’t be available. Juan Mata, who put in an excellent performance against Newcastle at the weekend, is cup-tied.

Bayern Munich are without Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez due to suspension tonight. Thiago Alcantara, a former Manchester United target, is still out injured, as is Xherdan Shaqiri.

Team News:

Bayern Munich: Neuer, Dante, Ribéry, Mandzukić, Robben, Boateng, Götze, Lahm (c), Müller, Alaba, Kroos

Subs: Raeder, van Buyten, Rafinha, Pizarro, Weiser, Hojbjerg, Weihrauc

Manchester United: De Gea; Jones, Smalling, Vidic, Evra; Fletcher, Carrick; Valencia, Rooney, Kagawa; Welbeck.

SubsLindegaard, Büttner, Ferdinand, Giggs, Januzaj, Young, Hernandez

You may have to refresh the page to update content. New posts will appear at the top. Comments on the games can be posted underneath or tweeted to me at @AlanKeane23.


Full time thoughts: Bayern make their third consecutive Champions League semi-final but United wave goodbye to the competition. They won’t be dining at Europe’s top table next year. The first half wasn’t one for the neutral, as both sides failed to carve out many clear-cut chances. The second half started slowly too before an absolutely stunning goal from Patrice Evra sparked the game into life. That goal woke Bayern up and they replied immediately through Mandzukic.

Two more goals killed off the United challenge but in reality besides Evra’s goal the away side offered very little in attack. Wayne Rooney was clearly effected by his toe injury tonight. He had United’s best chance with the scores level but couldn’t direct a shot on target with the goal at his mercy. He looked uncomfortable striking the ball all night.

Bayern advance, but they have much to do to make the finals. They weren’t quite at their best and will face more potent opposition next time out.

90 + 3 mins – The final whistle goes at the Allianz Arena. In Spain too, Atletico Madrid have beaten Barcelona 1-0.

90 mins – Three minutes added. 1999 all over again? Probably not.

87 mins – Great strength shown by Pizarro to get a shot away under pressure from Vidic. He shrugs off the challenge but can only find the arms of De Gea.

86 mins – United players increasingly frustrated as this game nears its conclusion. Evra fouls Robben near the touchline.

83 mins – Substitution for Bayern. Claudio Pizarro on for goalscorer Thomas Muller, who receives a standing ovation.

80 mins – Substitution for United. Januzaj on for Danny Welbeck. The striker will look back with regret on his squandered chance at Old Trafford when he had just Neuer to beat.

No more goals to report in the other quarter final. Atletico are ten minutes away from a famous victory over Barcelona. 1-0 since the 6th minute, 2-1 on aggregate.

78 mins – Mandzukic could have added to United’s woes just now but he couldn’t make contact with an Alaba cross from the left.

75 mins – GOAL BAYERN! 3-1 on the night as Arjen Robben slaloms through the United defence and his attempted shot takes a heavy deflection off Vidic and past the helpless De Gea. That should be that.

73 mins: Bayern with 22 attempts to United’s 4 and 74% possession so far. Substitution for United as Hernandez comes on for Fletcher. Rooney will drop a little deeper. United have just over quarter of an hour to rescue this game.

71 mins – Good tackle from Vidic in the box on Muller. Sixty thousand Bayern fans scream for a penalty but the ref rightly gives a corner.

69 mins – Yellow card for Patrice Evra. The Frenchman brought down Robben as the winger looked to be straight in on goal.

66 mins – GOAL BAYERN! Thomas Muller gets a toe on a whipped cross from Arjen Robben! 2-1 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate. If United score another they will go through, so all is not lost for David Moyes’ men. That was Mullers 5th goal in this season’s Champions League competition.

64 mins – Mandzukic rises highest to head a corner just wide. Rafinha is on for Mario Gotze as Guardiola makes his first substitution. That presumably means Philip Lahm will go to midfield with the sub slotting in at right back. Slightly defensive substitution from Pep there?

61 mins – Wayne Rooney misses what looked like an easy chance! The goal seemingly at his mercy after Welbeck slid the ball across the six yard box, the United striker scuffed the ball wide.

57 mins – GOAL BAYERN! Mandzukic with an immediate response for the home side. A close-range header after a cross from the right hand side. You wait all night for a goal and then two come along at once. Away goals cancelled out, the sides are level and one must score to go through. Game on!

56 mins – GOAL UNITED! Patrice Evra with a screamer into the top right hand corner from 20 yards! Great work by Valencia in the build-up to get a cross in from the right.

54 mins – It’s taken until the 54th minute but Manuel Neuer finally has to make a save. He gets down to his left to save a Kagawa effort from 20 yards. One you’d expect him to save really.

53 mins – Vidic takes one where it hurts. blocking Mandzukic’s shot from the edge of the box.

52 mins – This game really needs a goal to liven things up. Neither side posing much of a threat yet though.

46 mins- Smalling lands awkwardly after corner number two for United early in the half. The young defender is ok.

20:47 – Second half is underway.

Half time thoughts – Of the two sides, Manchester United can claim to have had the better half. The away side have been fairly solid in defence, albeit against a lacklustre Bayern Munich performance. Neither side seem eager to throw caution to wind just yet, which is understandable with so much at stake. However Manchester United need a goal and so the second half should be a more open affair. If United push forward they are liable to be caught on the break by the pace of Ribery and Robben on the Bayern flanks but it’s a risk they have to take if they are to progress to the semi-finals.

45 + 1 mins: Boateng blasts a ball high and wide to end the first half.

45 mins – One minute added at the end of the half.

43 mins – Robben takes on four United players in the box and lets off a shot when he should perhaps have found his teammates in better positions. Smalling blocks for a corner which comes to nothing.

39 mins – Lahm takes Evra out on the edge of the Bayern box, hurting the United full-back but the referee waves play on. Carrick eventually puts the ball out so his team mate can get attention.

37 mins – Kroos has an attempt from the edge of the box which fails to threaten De Gea’s goal.

35 mins – Manchester United comfortable with everything Munich have thrown at them so far. The home side haven’t been at their best as of yet. A bit ponderous in attack.

30 mins – They’ve reached the half hour point in Munich and it’s all very tentative at the moment. Neither side really committing going forward because both fear a counter attack.

27 mins – Yellow card for Vidic for climbing all over Mandzukic.

26 mins – Ribery with a shot from distance after Valencia failed to close him down properly. Fizzed past the near post but De Gea had it covered.

23 mins – Bayern with a lot of possession in the last five minutes…

Whoops! Forgot to mention that Atletico Madrid have taken the lead against Barcelona! 1-0 on the night and 2-1 on aggregate after Koke scored in the 6th minute.

20 mins – Intricate play from Gotze releases Ribery. The Frenchman is flagged outside after he squared the ball to Muller in front of goal.

16 mins – Antonio Valencia has a goal disallowed for Manchester United! Both he and Kagawa were offside as a cross came in from the left and the Ecuadorian finished to no avail.

12 mins – Plenty of crosses early on from Bayern Munich. Not many reaching their target as of yet. Curious to see them deviate from their usual passing game but they do have the imposing figure of Mandzukic up front.

7 mins – Huge chance for United! Rooney gets the ball in space in the Bayern box and all he had to do was slide it left to Kagawa. The Japanese player had the time and space for a shot on goal. Rooney eventually opted for the shot himself which was easily blocked.

6 mins – Rooney instigates United’s first attack with a cross from the left. Dante clears easily.

3 mins – First half chance for Bayern as a Robben cross finds Thomas Muller. He fails to direct his header on target.

1 min – The field opens up for Arjen Robben who brings the ball from the half-way line to the edge of the box before distributing to Ribery. A cross from the Frenchman fails to find Mandzukic.

19:45- The teams are out and we’re underway!

19:40 – Philipp Lahm reverts to right-back tonight for the home side. He’s been playing a lot in midfield under Guardiola this year but with Mario Gotze back in the side and Thomas Muller dropping back into the centre, the captain moves back to defence. He’s been so good in his new midfield role, Roberto Martinez brought Leighton Baines to watch the German play recently. The Everton manager thinks Baines could make the transition to midfield in the years to come.

19:35- Bayern haven’t won in three games, their longest drought since early 2011. Though that could be something to do with the fact they have the Bundesliga wrapped up for a few weeks.

19:30- Guardiola on Sky Sports. Playing down talks of a second successive treble for Bayern, saying the focus is on getting to the Champions League semi-finals. The coach says his side will attack tonight, and that it would be mistake to play for the draw.

19:20-  Gary Neville has been tweeting his thoughts on how United can go through to the semi-finals;

19:15- United need to score tonight, with Bayern taking an away goal from Old Trafford. The omens are good as Bayern have not won their past four home games against English opposition. The first loss in the streak was against Chelsea in the 2012 Champions League final at the Allianz.

19:12 – David Moyes on Sky Sports now. Talking about Bayern’s high back line and how United must exploit it.

19:00- So with 45 minutes until kick-off the teams are in. Shinji Kagawa starts for Manchester United tonight following an impressive display as a half time substitute in the first lef. Wayne Rooney also makes the first XI, having had a pain-killing injection after his toe injury.

Mario Mandzukic starts up front for the home side, the Croatian setting up Bastian Schweinsteiger’s goal at Old Trafford after coming on as a substitute. Mario Gotze begins in midfield instead of the suspended Schweinsteiger after being limited to a substitute appearance last week.


Premier League: 3 talking points after the weekend

Liverpool making their own luck:

Two penalties against Manchester United a few weeks back and two penalties yesterday at West Ham have been crucial to Brendan Rodgers’ side finding themselves top of the table with five games remaining.

However that’s not to say Liverpool have been getting it all their own way, as shown by West Ham’s equalizer yesterday. The fact is that Liverpool wouldn’t be getting penalties were they not creating chances, and they are top of the league by virtue of playing the most exciting football this season. They could still lose out if Manchester City come to Anfield next Sunday and win, but Brendan Rodgers deserves great credit for how his side have come from fourth place outsiders to title challengers.

Also, if there is a highly contested decision during a game, either video technology should be available to the referees or there should be no replay of it on the big screen. There can be no half measures. Liverpool players pointing to the big screen at Upton Park yesterday, screaming at the referee to watch Andy Carroll’s foul in the build up to West Ham’s goal while the referee refused to do so was farcical.

Norwich board take big gamble:

An underwhelming campaign thus far from Norwich City has led to the sacking of manager Chris Hughton. While lying fourth from bottom with five games left is bad enough, the fact that four of those five games are against Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal leaves Norwich with much to do if they aren’t to be playing in the Championship next season.

Whatever the dire circumstances Norwich find themselves in, is it wise to sack Hughton at this stage of the season? Admittedly the team has been uninspired under the former Republic of Ireland international all season, but what makes the board think that this will change under the tutelage of youth team coach Neil Adams? Are they hoping for that “new manager effect” that sometimes lifts teams particularly in the early stages?

That doesn’t always happen. Ask Pepe Mel, the West Brom boss since December and Hughton’s final adversary as Norwich manager.  His first win didn’t come until mid March.

The final four games against the big sides pale in comparison to Norwich’s fixture next weekend. They come up against fellow strugglers Fulham in a game that could see the Canaries go eight points clear of Felix Magath’s side with a win. Depending on other results, three points for Norwich may leave them in 13th place by Sunday evening. For the club to disrupt the preparations for that game by sacking Hughton is a huge gamble.


McCarthy and Coleman thriving under Roberto Martinez:

Everton’s performances this season have been wonderful to watch. Yesterday was one of the best yet as they dismantled an Arsenal side who not three months ago were among the favourites for the title.

They may lose some of their key players during the summer if they cannot make their loan deals permanent. Striker Romelu Lukaku is certainly one they would like to keep, but Gerard Delofeu will more than likely return to Barcelona and Gareth Barry may also move on.

One thing is sure however, Martinez will be doing all he can to keep hold of Republic of Ireland internationals James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman. The pair have been key to Everton’s fight for a Champions League spot all season. Gareth Barry last week heaped praise on McCarthy, saying he was one of the best midfielders he had played alongside. Seamus Coleman is almost a certainty to be named in the Premier League team of the year. The Donegal man has been in outstanding form, chipping in with important goals from full-back.

All this is good news for Irish football fans, and if Everton manage to hold onto both players then they will only improve further under the astute Martinez. Darron Gibson may return from a serious knee injury before the end of the season, and with Aiden McGeady at the club since January, Martinez has a crucialrole to play in the development of important Ireland players in the Martin O’Neill era.


Featured Image: GETTY Images

Jury still out on UEFA’s Nations League

Spain v Italy - UEFA EURO 2012 Final

Spain, winners of a 16 team Euro 2012

In the future, international friendlies will be a thing of the past. The 54 members of UEFA this morning unanimously ratified the proposed Nations League, which will come into effect from 2018 onwards.

The aim of the competition, according to UEFA’s website, will be “to improve the quality and standard of international football.” UEFA admits in its statement that the exact format of the Nations League is yet to be determined, but “the concept is for the 54 teams to be divided into four large groups according to co-efficient rankings.”

When news of this possible development broke earlier in the week, it was easy to dismiss it as a PR move to make international friendlies more appealing. However it has emerged that the Nations League will be linked to the Euro Qualifiers, with extra places in the European Championships at stake.

In some respects this is a welcome move. Weaker countries will get extra opportunities to qualify for the European Championships. Anything that adds some spice to international friendlies can only be good for supporters, particularly Irish ones. If it wasn’t for the appointment of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane last autumn, the Aviva Stadium would have been harder to fill for games against Latvia and Poland.

However is there really a need to throw another competition into the mix? The Nations League runs the risk of becoming the Europa League of international football; important to the smaller sides but treated with contempt by the top teams. Furthermore, if it is important to the weaker nations, does that allow less room for them to blood new talent? International friendlies, while often tedious, have always been the stepping stone for younger players between club football and the higher intensity of competitive international fixtures. If the Nations League threatens teams with relegation should they lose, will they be reluctant to field inexperienced players?

In any case, with the expansion of the European Championships to 24 teams taking place, surely the current qualification route would have been enough of an opportunity for the weaker teams to stake their claim. Traditionally the group stages of the Euros have been more exciting than those in the World Cup due to fact that there were only 16 teams of a decent quality involved. Raising the quota to 24 teams has already given the third-best side in a qualification group the opportunity to progress to the flagship tournament via the play-offs.

UEFA run the risk of not only diluting the quality of the championship itself but also of the qualifiers. If a team is doing well in the Nations League, will they focus more on achieving their qualifying objective in that manner than in the qualifiers?

These are all questions which cannot be definitively answered until the inaugural Nations League in 2018. The tournament could be a success, or it could be just another ridiculous idea like those linesmen behind the goals who don’t actually do anything.


Can Ireland make it to Euro 2016?

Ireland have been handed a difficult but not impossible task after being drawn in Qualification Group D for Euro 2016.
With Germany top seeds in the group, Ireland have to face Joachim Loew’s side for the second qualification campaign in a row. Ranked second in the world, the Germans inflicted a 9-1 aggregate defeat on the Boys in Green on their march to Brazil 2014.
Theoretically fighting with Ireland for the remaining automatic qualification spot and play-off place are Scotland and Poland.
Propping up the table, (barring disaster for the teams mentioned above) should be Georgia and Gibraltar. Gibraltar only attained international status in May of last year. Georgia, in its 20 years of playing competitive international football, has finished 6th in qualification groups more often than not. Ireland put four past them last June in an Aviva friendly.
With the talent at Jogi Loew’s disposal, it is difficult to see how Germany could drop points, let alone fail to finish top of the group. A team with a mix of youth and experience, and a spine consisting of players from Bayern Munich’s treble winning side and Borussia Dortmund, should take this group at a canter. It is difficult to select the key player for the Germans, because as soon as the focus shifts to one Wunderkind another one overtakes him.

Bayern Munich star Toni Kroos

Mercurial talents such as Marco Reus and Mezut Ozil offer potency in attack, while a midfield consisting of Toni Kroos, Mario Gotze Sami Khedira and Phillip Lahm (if played there) won’t be overrun too often. At the back, Mats Hummels is an extremely intelligent centre-half alongside a resurgent Per Mertesacker. If they have shown any weakness in the recent past  it was when they switched off at 4-0 up against Sweden in the last qualification campaign and ended up shipping 4 goals and two points in the process. While there is a possibility of them scoring four against Ireland, Scotland or Poland, it is unlikely they will capitulate and concede four again.
Of the teams challenging for second and third in the group, on paper Poland would seem to have the advantage. Their star striker Robert Lewandowski plays Champions League football with Borussia Dortmund and will move to the all-conquering Bayern Munich in the summer. Polish captain Jacub Blaszczykowski  also plies his trade at Dortmund. However Poland have never beaten Germany in 17 attempts. Most recently they played out a two-all draw in September 2011. Outside of their Champions League stars, their line-up is solid if not spectacular. They finished 4th in the qualifying campaign for this year’s World Cup after a promising start.

Lewandowski struggles to spell his captain’s name

Scotland under Gordon Strachan are slowly growing in confidence. Early losses during his reign put paid to any qualification hopes for Brazil, but wins in the meantime against Croatia and Macedonia indicate the former Celtic manager has bedded in well. The clashes against another former Celtic boss in Martin O’Neill will go a long way to determine the final positions of both Ireland and Scotland in the table. You can bet either O’Neill or his assistant Roy Keane will watch and rewatch the video of Scotland’s friendly trip to Poland next Wednesday.
And what of the dark horsemeat of the group, Gibraltar? They have a fairly decent record having drawn with Slovakia in their first ever UEFA recognised game last November. It ended nil-all so it’s difficult to make out where their goals will come from as yet. Maybe former Derby County, Sunderland and Stoke central defender Danny Higginbotham? Though he has said he will retire soon so may not even be in the squad come the beginning of the qualifying campaign. Like all teams who Ireland play, they should be treated respect (Cyprus and San Marino spring to mind), but 6 points are an absolute necessity for O’Neill’s men.

Danny Higginbotham. Gibraltar’s danger man?

And what of Ireland themselves? Can we compete with Poland and Scotland? Irish fans would hope so, while Roy Keane would probably question why we can’t take six points off of Germany as well. This attitude is sure to serve the Boys in Green better than Trappatoni’s thinking that our team wasn’t good enough to play football against the big boys. With four potential Irish starters at a well managed Everton under Roberto Martinez, the hope is that there is a strong core in the immediate and long-term future of the Ireland team. The question of where Ireland’s goals will come from is pertinent, but hopefully Paul Green will chip in with a few.

Coleman and McCarthy will be crucial to Ireland’s chances

Ireland finish the qualifying campaign with games at home to Germany and away to Poland. Whatever about the Germany game, the Poland tie could be crucial in deciding the fate of both teams involved and Scotland. It’s the same day Ireland take on France in the Rugby World Cup. Some days Ireland’s sports stars take on the world and win. 21st of March 2009. Ireland beat Wales in Cardiff to claim their first Grand Slam since 1948. Later that night in the O2 Arena, Bernard Dunne knocks Ricardo Cordoba out in the 11th round to claim the WBA Super-Bantamweight world championship. A glorious day. All of Ireland rejoiced. Perhaps the 11th of October 2015 will be such a day.

O’Neill and Keane to re-ignite pride in green jersey?

A new era for Irish football
So it’s official, Ireland is under new management. Messrs O’Neill and Keane, appointed to pour petrol on the dying embers left in Giovanni Trappatoni’s wake.
 Martin O’Neill was always going to be in the reckoning following the departure of Giovanni Trappatoni a few weeks back. He has a strong managerial record, is from these shores, and has an infectious passion for the game that could just be the spark needed to breathe life back into the international set-up.
Roy Keane as his assistant, on the other hand, was a bit of a curve ball. Sure, many talking heads mooted the idea of Keane taking up the position of manager if he could just get over his rift with the FAI. However not too many people expected the former midfield general to be content to take a secondary role.
It remains to be seen exactly what role Keane will play in the management team, and whether or not O’Neill will bring in Steve Walford, who was his right-hand man during his tenures at Leicester, Celtic, Aston Villa and Sunderland. If the latter occurs, Walford will almost certainly assume the day-to-day coaching role, with O’Neill and Keane getting involved when it comes to the tactical nuances.
Noel King’s last act (thankfully) as caretaker-manager was to name the squad for the forthcoming Latvia and Poland friendlies. Meaningless up to last weekend, these games have taken on a certain weight as the public awaits the first press conferences of the new regime. There may even be a semi-full Aviva for the Latvia game. While both O’Neill and Keane are charismatic in their own right, it’s probable that the initial media clamour will surround Keane’s first utterances.
And that’s where problems may lie in this partnership. Brian Kerr wrote an interesting article in the Irish Times this week where he spoke about the role of an assistant manager. He noted that a lot of an assistant’s time is spent staring at the manager’s back. Will Keane be content to take a back seat while O’Neill dishes out the words of wisdom before games and at half-time. It’s unlikely, but then perhaps it’s just as improbable that O’Neill hired Keane to sit there quietly.
The old adage that two heads are better than one will hopefully ring true in this arrangement. Can you imagine the amount of Irish players Keane and O’Neill will run the rule over on an average weekend of football across the pond? More than Trappatoni managed in a full year of his tenure probably.
Footballers are human after all. Knowing that your managers have taken the time to come and assess one of your games will surely give any of the Irish players a morale boost. There will presumably be less communication difficulties between management and players given that they’ll all be speaking the same language.
People may question the recent managerial records of both men, with Keane out of football since he left Ipswich in January of 2011, and O’Neill restricted to tv appearances since his sacking from Sunderland in March of this year. Keane has also had some high-profile fallings out with players at the clubs he’s managed (some current Irish internationals included). However both men, and in particular O’Neill, have much to commend them on their CVs.
Keane took Sunderland from relegation danger to Championship winners in his first season, and kept them afloat in the Premier League in his second. O’Neill was mastermind of one of the best spells of success Celtic have had in recent memory, including an appearance in a UEFA Cup final in 2003. He also led Aston Villa to three consecutive top 6 finishes in the Premier League. While it was an above average Villa team he had at the time, it was still no mean feat.
It will be interesting to see the first starting XI named by the new management team, however of much more importance will be the teams named early next year. As mentioned above, Noel King picked this squad. O’Neill and Keane have yet to put their stamp on it. If Keane has his say, for example, could we possibly see a return to the Ireland fold for Stephen Ireland? Keane has spoken about his admiration for his fellow Corkman during Ireland’s international exile, and there have been constant murmurings from the Stoke City midfielder to the tune that he may welcome a return to the green jersey under new management. It shouldn’t be up to a player whether he plays for his international side or not, but if O’Neill and Keane deem his form good enough, Ireland could be a useful addition to the squad.
This managerial partnership has the potential to either end in tears or establish a solid platform for the Irish international side for years to come. Odds have been slashed already on Ireland’s qualification for the next European championships, with the draw for the qualifiers not set to take place until the 23rd of February next year. Whatever happens on the field, Ireland games won’t be dull again for quite a while.
Rep. of Ireland squad for forthcoming friendlies vs Latvia and Poland:
David Forde (Millwall), Keiren Westwood (Sunderland), Rob Elliot (Newcastle), Sean St Ledger (Leicester City), Marc Wilson (Stoke City), Seamus Coleman (Everton), John O’Shea (Sunderland), Alex Pearce (Reading), Stephen Kelly (Reading), Joey O’Brien (West Ham), Ciaran Clark (Aston Villa), Stephen Ward (Brighton & Hove Albion), James McCarthy (Wigan Athletic), Glenn Whelan (Stoke City), Paul Green (Leeds Utd), Andy Reid (Nottingham Forest), Aiden McGeady (Spartak Moscow), Anthony Pilkington (Norwich City), James McClean (Wigan), Robbie Brady (Hull City), Stephen Quinn (Hull City), Wes Hoolahan (Norwich City), Shane Long (West Bromwich Albion), Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Jon Walters (Stoke City), Kevin Doyle (Wolves), Anthony Stokes (Celtic).

In From The Cold: King recalls Reid, Gibson and Stokes for October qualifiers

Reid to make his international comeback.

Ireland’s caretaker manager Noel King today announced his provisional 26 man squad for the upcoming qualifiers against Germany and Kazakhstan.

While there are no real changes to the defensive personnel, there is a reshuffle in the centre of the park which sees Darren Gibson return to the fold after a self-imposed exile. Nottingham Forest midfielder Andy Reid gets a call up after being left out in the cold by Trappatoni for the past 5 years. 
Reid is a player of undoubted ability, with a left foot capable of picking the lock of any defence. There have always been question marks over his fitness, however his lack of pace is compensated by his passing, shooting and free-taking ability. Below is a short clip highlighting what he’s capable of. The only pity for Ireland is that Reid, along with Wes Hoolahan, were overlooked by Trappatoni during a period when Ireland were crying out for a creative presence in midfield. Now the two of them are the wrong side of thirty years old, Hoolahan only finding his way into Trappatoni’s plans earlier this year and Reid parachuted in for two World Cup qualifiers rendered almost meaningless by recent results. 
Darron Gibson took himself out of contention for an Ireland call-up following last year’s disappointing European Championship. The decision of Trappatoni not to play him in any of Ireland’s three games was something that rankled, leading him to opt out of playing any more games under the veteran Italian manager. He declared his availability once more when Trappatoni parted ways with the Ireland team and will be a welcome addition to the midfield. 
A return on the cards?
Interestingly, Stephen Ireland is a name that we could be seeing again on the team-sheet. Irish Independent football writer Daniel McDonnell tweeted today “A comeback for Stephen Ireland was discussed. He doesn’t feel in top condition/ready but gave impression he wants to play for Ireland again.” Whether he would be welcomed back by Irish fans is another matter entirely, but there is a precedent for a controversial Corkman returning to the fold.
Up front, Anthony Stokes is called up to the international set-up for the first time since he withdrew from the Carling Cup squad in May 2011. As the only player of the Irish panel currently involved in Champions League football, his inclusion at the expense of Connor Sammon is a welcome one.
Kevin Doyle has also been given a reprieve by Noel King, having missed out on the past few international fixtures. However the Wexford man had not been overlooked by Trappatoni due to some slight, (perceived or otherwise) but rather because of an abysmal run of form. Doyle now plies his trade with Wolverhampton Wanderers in League One and will surely be desperate to get on the field in a green shirt, if only to put himself in the shop window for a January escape. At 30 years old, time is running out for the former Reading striker.
Doyle back in the squad.
Elsewhere in the squad, Richard Dunne and John O’Shea are included despite both being suspended for the Germany game. They will join up with the rest of the team before the Kazakhstan fixture. Darren O’Dea has been omitted from the squad but Noel King is confident he has the strength in depth needed to cope at the back. While Andy Reid returns to the fold, his club-mate Simon Cox misses out.
Provisional 26 man squad:
Forde [Millwall], Westwood [Sunderland], Randolph [Birmingham], O’Brien [West Ham], St Ledger [Leicester], Wilson [Stoke], Coleman [Everton], Kelly [Reading], Clark [Aston Villa], McShane [Hull], Gibson [Everton], Whelan [Stoke], McCarthy [Everton], Green [Leeds], Reid [Nottingham Forest], McGeady [Spartak Moscow], Pilkington [Norwich], McClean [Wigan], Brady [Hull], Quinn [Hull], Hoolahan [Norwich], Long [WBA],Keane [LA Galaxy], Walters [Stoke], Doyle [Wolves], Stokes [Celtic] – O’Shea [Sunderland] and Dunne [QPR] will join squad for Kazakhstan game.