Ireland took on Italy in an international friendly in front of a packed Craven Cottage in London last night. With all the speculation surrounding Roy Keane and the vacant managerial role at Celtic, it was nice for Martin O’Neill and his charges to be able to focus on playing football.
It was a fairly even contest which will serve Italy well as they make their final preparations ahead of their first World Cup game against Italy in less than a fortnight’s time. Unfortunately however the night was marred by a serious injury to midfielder Riccardo Montolivo, who has been ruled out of the trip to Brazil after breaking his ankle in a clash with Alex Pearce.
Here are three talking points from last night’s game.
1. Confident play.
Some of the passing and movement at Craven Cottage last night was exceptional, and more importantly a far cry from the long ball tactics of the Trappatoni era.
The ball is utilised better by the whole team, with patient build up play and the courage to play it out from the back. The new management has shown confidence in the team’s ability to play football, and in turn the team has improved with every passing game.
Both Jeff Hendrick and Wes Hoolahan gave a strong Irish turnout in London something to shout about yesterday, as they constantly hassled and harried the sometimes lackadaisical Italian midfield into giving away possession. When either of these creative outlets got the ball for Ireland, something looked like happening in attack.
2. Where are you, Robbie?
There is still a worrying lack of a cutting edge in front of goal for Ireland when Robbie Keane isn’t around. The talisman is getting on now, and at a time when he should be taking a back seat, (or at least a seat on the bench) Martin O’Neill need’s his predatory instincts more than ever.
Shane Long offers much in the lone striker role. He has pace, holds the ball up well and occupies opposition defenders with clever movement. Crucially however, he just cannot seem to find the back of the net. When the goal looms large in front of him he either takes the wrong option or fluffs his lines.
Yesterday he attempted a pass to Aiden McGeady when world-class strikers might have been more inclined to shoot. When he did have an attempt on goal he wasn’t clinical enough. One was a weak shot that barely troubled Siguru in the Italian goal, and again with a header that found the keeper when the goal was at his mercy.
With Long, Kevin Doyle, Simon Cox and Jonathan Walters, Ireland have forward players who will run all day and hold the ball up to give midfielders the time to join the attack. Unfortunately however, when Robbie Keane is not in the squad, it’s hard to see where the goals will come from.
3. Summer fixtures the ideal shop window.
For players such as Norwich duo Anthony Pilkington and Wes Hoolahan, these Ireland games are a welcome chance to showcase their abilities following frustrating club campaign.
Both players failed to hold down regular places at Carrow Road in the Premier League last season, but they’ve grasped the opportunities that have come their way in the green jersey during these summer fixtures so far.
Hoolahan has been at the heart of Ireland’s most impressive attacking play, while Anthony Pilkington showed deft displays of skill in London yesterday and was unfortunate not to get the goal that this dazzling bit of play deserved.
It goes without saying that the more Irish squad members playing regular Premier League football the better, and a few more performances like this from Hoolahan and Pilkington will do their chances of leaving Carrow Road and the Championship no harm at all.