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Euro 2012: Republic face final warm-up before big test


Giovanni Trapattoni's Republic team play Hungary tonight

Giovanni Trapattoni's Republic team play Hungary tonight

Niall Carson

Giovanni Trapattoni's Republic team play Hungary tonight

Preparation or preservation. That is the question.

The last thing that Giovanni Trapattoni needs in Budapest tonight is his own version of a Shakespearean tragedy. He is praying that all his main actors will still be standing when this friendly match draws to a conclusion in the theatrical surrounds of the Ferenc Puskas Stadium.

Nursing the walking wounded has been the main theme of the past fortnight, but, as the main act draws closer, there comes a point where the manager wants a full dress rehearsal for the major test that lies ahead in Poland.

And that is why he walked into last night's pre-match press conference and named not just his starting XI for this encounter, but also confirmed that the same team will be selected against Croatia this Sunday, barring injuries. "Touch wood," he said, with the superstitious gesture barely accompanied by a smile. He went further later in the press conference by appearing to indicate that it would be his favoured side for the entire competition if they remained fit, although he qualified that by saying that the result of the first match could change his thinking. Whatever happens in tournament mode will happen but, for now, it's about getting there.

Newcomers to Trapattoni's world seemed genuinely surprised by his certainty about the identity of the team for the challenge ahead. It is natural to wonder if it will have a negative impact on the rest of the squad. And the added element is that it makes it relatively easy for Slaven Bilic to plan ahead.

The reality, however, is that tonight's substitutes and Bilic will already have known what was coming. Trapattoni is going into battle with his long standing first-choice selection, and he considers that to be a huge positive which outranks the danger of arming the opposition with too much information.

For his view is that a degree of certainty about the chosen ones makes all work with regard to set-pieces and tactical play extremely relevant; pointing out that other nations may lack in these little details because they may not know who will be on the pitch for a given situation at a particular time.

"Maybe England or the other teams, when they prepare free- kicks, they don't know who will be playing or not," he said. "Today, I know, I can try Robbie with this situation. Not having another 18 players shooting. There are many other options in set-pieces, so you need to use the team for it. If I want a corner taken, do I put McGeady or Duff - who will be on the pitch - or another?"

Trapattoni also feels that rather than breeding complacency, his modus operandi will have the right psychological impact. "It will be quite the opposite," he replies, when it suggested that the other players' heads may drop.

"We have a consolidated team that can play together with their eyes closed, but the competition is very important. But the subs who come on the pitch can push them on, like in the game against Bosnia."

Still, when Robbie Keane is asked for the umpteenth time what Trapattoni has brought to the job, the 73-year-old interjects. "Balance," he says, in the direction of his skipper, as though they are suddenly table quiz partners. His tenure is about organisation rather than producing the ace from up the sleeve.

Although Stephen Ward sustained a minor knock in training on Saturday, the primary concern surrounds the well-being of John O'Shea, with increasing certainty that Shay Given will be fine despite blisters forcing him to sit out the final session of the week in Italy.

O'Shea's situation is where Trapattoni walks a fine line. The Waterford man is an experienced member of the squad who knows his job well. Nevertheless, the first-choice right-back last saw action when he limped off 43 minutes into Sunderland's final Premier League game of the season back on May 13.

"I don't know if he's 100pc," said Trapattoni. "This is the test for him. So, when there is the injury, we can only say after the game that he is 100pc fine."

O'Shea, who is troubled by an ankle problem, has to demonstrate that he is at concert pitch. Yet, at the same time, the Irish manager is doubtful about leaving the 31-year-old on the pitch for 90 minutes.

"Maybe not 90," he said, "Maybe not. It's good also, to say, 70 minutes. Because then I have to think about Croatia."

Given's right knee appears to have healed, but Trapattoni must also decide whether to leave the Donegal native on the pitch for the duration. He wants to extend Ireland's unbeaten run to 14 games, but not at a price.

"We want to maintain this positive sequence, the momentum," he stresses, "But it's important that players understand when to take a risk. They must think, sometimes, 'I better not make this tackle.'

Trapattoni made half-time switches in the Bosnian game, and rolled out another four substitutes before the end. It would be a surprise if there was such sweeping change in the course of this game.

"Maybe in the second half, I will try some other solutions," he said. Yet there was no real certainty in those words. Where is change possible?

Well, the aforementioned quotes make a clear a willingness to mind O'Shea at some point. The manager is also extremely paranoid about losing the wide experience of Damien Duff, so don't be surprised if he is withdrawn at some stage; indeed, James McClean could be the beneficiary rather than Stephen Hunt. He could, technically, introduce both wingers and take care of key creative force Aiden McGeady as well, but he may leave that for later.

Trapattoni almost always rotates the forward line, and Shane Long was given a strong mention yet a lot could depend on how Robbie Keane is faring. The skipper thrives off confidence and would probably like a longer run here. The physicality of Jon Walters offers another kind of Kevin Doyle, while Darron Gibson may see a role for himself in the centre of the park. Still, some of the more likely lads in reserve will require patience on an evening where Trapattoni wants to bring the Euro 2012 prep to the next level.

He's placed his faith in the cast who brought Ireland on this adventure. Now is not the time to start fluffing lines.

Ireland (v Hungary) - Given; O'Shea, Dunne, St Ledger, Ward; Duff, Andrews, Whelan, McGeady; Keane, Doyle.

Belfast Telegraph