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Tuesday 17 October 2017

Ronnie Whelan: Germans are beatable so let's have a right go

Wes Hoolahan, Republic of Ireland, celebrates with team-mate Robbie Keane after scoring his side's seventh goal
Wes Hoolahan, Republic of Ireland, celebrates with team-mate Robbie Keane after scoring his side's seventh goal

SO now we know. Germany are beatable and Ireland's Euro 2016 qualifying group is a four-team race. Martin O'Neill can have a right cut at them tomorrow.

I don't think anyone was comfortable with the idea of effectively handing the Germans the top spot in the group - but any realistic assessment of the relative strengths of the teams in Group D produced some simple conclusions.

Joachim Loew's team is still the top-ranked in the world and while I know they have lost a few big names like Philipp Lahm, they still had seven World Cup winners on the pitch in Warsaw.

I saw a lot of the game and to be fair to Germany, they absolutely battered Poland for quite a bit of this game. But they couldn't score.

That seems to be the big problem for Loew and it was the same problem we all identified which allowed us to think they would fall short in Brazil.

Loew found a way to get enough goals in Brazil but the problem has not gone away. Like any team in the middle of transition, it can take time to resolve issues created by good players retiring.

Scotland found that out last month and up until Poland did what they did, O'Neill and most Ireland fans were looking at the game as a reason for hope. I thought they had a lot more of the game than Poland had and if ever there was a 'hangover' performance from a team with winners medals from a summer tournament finals, that was it.

As all good teams do, they were able to dig deep and find the winner they needed but they couldn't do it in Warsaw despite running the game and we must hope that this was something more than just a glitch.

Confidence is such a fragile thing. Even German footballers, with the arrogance of their tradition and standing in the world game, lose their bottle.

Even managers like Loew lose their way and find that things which worked before, suddenly stop functioning.

And it must be pointed out, Ireland's top pros are in a good mood right now. It doesn't matter that Gibraltar were as bad as any team I've ever seen in an international game. No team can score seven goals and be unhappy about it.

Changes

I expect changes in the team to play Germany. I don't think he will go with Wes Hoolahan, even though he is the best we have. I suspect Glenn Whelan will come back in and O'Neill will try to tighten things up all around the pitch.

I would find a way to play Hoolahan, I must say. Poor Gibraltar came upon a player who could turn them inside and out and he did that successfully in the first 20 minutes. I think he could have the same impact on Germany.

The difficulty for O'Neill is what to do with Robbie Keane and, in my opinion, he should start the veteran goalscorer without any question whatsoever.

If their are chances in Gelsenkirchen - and there will be - my money is on Keane to take advantage before any of the other strikers in O'Neill's squad.

His scoring record is now heading into a place where he is rubbing shoulders with the true greats of our game, and I think he has more in him.

It's that hope and the evidence of so many games in the past which inform this opinion.

Seriously, if Ireland get one chance to score, would you prefer to have Keane standing there or Shane Long?

O'Neill's biggest problem is at the back and there were worrying moments against Gibraltar which do give me some cause for alarm. John O'Shea and Stephen Ward both looked leggy and at times, awkward. Gibraltar nearly scored a couple from set-pieces and if Ireland defend like that against Germany, they will lose the game.

Gamble

O'Neill learned nothing from sticking David Meyler into the right-full slot simply because he never got to defend and if he starts in the position against Germany, it will be a huge gamble.

Under normal circumstances, it's a call I think O'Neill would avoid but he has no choice. His centre-half options are not great and his full-back selection is down to the bare bones.

If he moved Marc Wilson to right-full, an already shaky defence would creak even more and I would fear for the consequences.

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