Belfast Telegraph

Trapattoni insists Wales clash is going to be no mere warm-up

By Daniel McDonnell

Giovanni Trapattoni has warned his Republic of Ireland side tonights clash with Wales will be a friendly only in name.

The Celtic rivals meet at Cardiff City Stadium with the visitors looking to build towards their crucial World Cup qualifiers against Sweden and Austria next month.

They will face a Wales side without star man Gareth Bale after the Tottenham winger was ruled out due to his foot injury.

But Trapattoni is under no illusions that Wales still remain a potent threat to his side's positive run of recent form, which has seen them lose just once in 2013.

Trapattoni was Italy manager when they were beaten 2-1 by Wales at a sold-out Millennium Stadium during qualifying for Euro 2004.

The atmosphere will be considerably more low-key tonight, but the Republic boss remains wary of the Welsh.

"This is no friendly," he said. "I know this country. I was here many years ago with Italy, as was their scorer that night, (Craig) Bellamy.

"We won in Italy but we lost over here and we know about this team, I have seen so many games and I know the Welsh players, they have a good mentality and they are international players. After this game we can reflect, and we will know from our attitude and personality whether we are ready to play against Sweden."

Trapattoni is pleased he will not have to face Bale's combination of pace, power and skill, but admits it is a shame for the home fans to miss out on seeing the Real Madrid target.

"I am a sports fan, I have 50 years in football," he said. "It is a shame for Wales and all football fans. He is the sort of player everyone loves.

"For us it is okay and I can say we are lucky he is not playing. But I understand the situation, what is important for Bale and Real Madrid whether he goes there or not."

Trapattoni confirmed Keiren Westwood will start in goal with David Forde ruled out by injury, although the Italian remains hopeful the Millwall stopper and defender Sean St Ledger may be fit to face the Swedes.

Norwich's Wes Hoolahan is also handed a start, playing in the hole behind striker Shane Long.

And captain John O'Shea believes the 31-year-old has the talent to make the most of his opportunity to stake a claim for a regular spot.

O'Shea said: "He has developed late in his career but it has been to our benefit. The manager has slowly introduced him and we are fully aware of his talents.

"The players have seen it, the manager has seen it, not just in the Premier League but every day on the training ground.

"Hopefully he will be a vital part for us during the latter stages of this campaign.

"As a tall defender he is a nightmare as he is a tough guy. He is not afraid to take a few knocks but he does get in pockets behind the midfield four and that is what the manager will want from him tomorrow night."

Meanwhile, Glenn Whelan (below left) wins his 50th international cap tonight, quite an achievement for a player who didn't make his first senior appearance for his country until May 2008. The half-century is a recognition of both his value to Giovanni Trapattoni and his dedication to the cause. To put his caps total in context, Ryan Giggs won 64 caps during his 16 years of service, while Roy Keane picked up 67 in the course of his international service.

Whelan's fondest memories from his 50 caps are qualifying for the Euros – "once we got there it was a disaster" – and the manner in which the team set out in Paris in the World Cup play-off.

"The France game was probably the one time where we were given free rein to go for it. We needed to, because we were a goal down. To get a chance to try to qualify for the World Cup against a team of that stature meant a lot."

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