Staunton struggles to hang on to his job
Steve Staunton tapped one more nail into his own coffin as the manager of the Republic of Ireland yesterday with another soulless public display. He certainly hit it on the head when he described the defeat to Cyprus 12 months ago as a "nightmare" – indeed some would say that is an understatement given the game's status as probably the worst display ever endured by the Irish.
But when Staunton then chose to talk up the virtues of the same opponents – whom the Republic face in Dublin this evening – it was with the lack of prickliness that has been a hallmark of his dispiriting regime. "It was 12 months ago and it was a nightmare, end of story," Staunton said yesterday of the meeting in Nicosia, a 5-2 defeat, which holed the campaign to qualify for Euro 2008.
"It's gone, it's history," Staunton added, misjudging the moment. "The only game we are analysing is Cyprus's [3-1] win against Wales. People forget Cyprus are a good side. They have drawn with the Germans, and they should have got something in the Czech Republic, so we know we're in for a tough game."
The Cypriots are ranked the world's 68th strongest footballing nation, which is certainly respectable enough but Irish pride demands that even if they are stuck in the doldrums, they cannot fail to reverse last year's result. Indeed, anything short of resounding victory will only serve to ratchet up the demand for Staunton to be replaced.
The signs of progress are limited. Indeed, Staunton's team narrowly avoided topping the trauma of the result in Nicosia last autumn when, in February, only Stephen Ireland's 95th-minute goal gained a surreal 2-1 victory in San Marino. It also puts into context the manager's claim that since losing to the Cypriots the Irish have tasted defeat just once in 11 games.
Even the goalless draw against Germany last Saturday was remembered as much for the booing of Staunton as the result itself. It could have been so much better had Robbie Keane not wasted an opportunity but the brutal truth is that only if the Czechs lose their final three ties will the Republic have a chance of finishing second in Group D.
It should, however, be remembered that the Irish team is studded with players from the Premier League. The best the Cypriots can muster are a handful of representatives in Greece and one in Spain, another in Germany. Staunton will hope that Andy Reid, Kevin Doyle and John O'Shea recover from injury, while Lee Carsley and Richard Dunne miss out through suspension.
Republic of Ireland (4-4-2): Given (Newcastle Utd); Finnan (Liverpool), McShane (Sunderland), O'Brien (Bolton), O'Shea (Manchester Utd); McGeady (Celtic), A Reid (Charlton Ath), Potter (Wolverhampton), Kilbane (Wigan Ath); Doyle (Reading), Keane (Tottenham).