Tuesday 28 January 2020

Ireland will hang in there and look for a sucker punch

POINT TO PROVE: Ireland boss Mick McCarthy. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
POINT TO PROVE: Ireland boss Mick McCarthy. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

What do you do when a draw is not enough?

That is the question for Ireland now, after a Saturday struggle that has removed the option of qualifying for Euro 2020 on the strength of an unbeaten record.

Mick McCarthy's side need one win from their remaining two matches to be sure of a place in the finals.

On paper, that's a straightforward permutation but in practice that's going to be slightly more complicated.

The experienced manager is well used to the noise that comes with this job and likes to remind people that he is the one that has to make the decisions.

BIG: James Collins. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
BIG: James Collins. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

A positive spin on the situation post-Tbilisi is that Ireland would have taken this position at the beginning of the group, if not at the beginning of last week with Denmark's win in Copenhagen on Saturday far from ideal.

McCarthy said as much upon arrival in Switzerland. "Everybody would have taken this," he said. "The peddlers of doom and gloom will say we've no chance of winning. I don't get that."

One win is enough, but a loss in Geneva would have implications for the Denmark game. So this is the situation facing McCarthy.

Ireland are 90 minutes away from a place in the Euro 2020 finals. They are going to the home of a Switzerland side that is under excrutiating pressure following a defeat in Denmark on Saturday.

A side that has played the best football in the group but showed a mental frailty under pressure.

They were 3-0 up at home to Denmark and drew 3-3. Comfortable in Ireland until a late concession to David McGoldrick. Frustrated by Kasper Schmeichel's brilliance in Copenhagen until another late lapse.

Switzerland are serial qualifiers for major tournament and still know that wins from their remaining three games will be enough. But if they fail to win this match, they need favours elsewhere.

Therefore, it's probably not as straightforward as suggesting that Ireland should just enter tomorrow with a plan to 'go for it'.

It's going to have to be more nuanced than that. If Ireland can manage a draw, then it basically puts Denmark through to the finals, presuming they can beat Gibraltar in their penultimate match. They would arrive in Dublin with nothing to play for aside from a result that might help their seeding. Italy in Lille springs to mind.

Therefore, Ireland face something of a dilemma tomorrow night if they can manage to stay competitive in the game heading into the final quarter.

It means that there is likely to be caution in the strategy again. "A point would be fabulous in Geneva," said McCarthy, speaking before the Danish triumph.

He must now mull over ways that a one point target could be twisted to three.

David McGoldrick is definitely out of the game, and that means there's a seriously strong argument for throwing Aaron Connolly from the outset after the impact he made on Saturday off the bench.

Yes, he did have the advantage of coming on against tired opponents, and he did miss the chances that came his way - the 19-year-old would have preferred them on his favoured right foot.

However, he asked questions of the Georgian back line and a striking aspect of last month's game with the Swiss was how they were quicker and stronger. Connolly is short, but he has shown that he relishes the task of making life difficult for big defenders who would actually prefer a physical battle with a bruiser like James Collins.

James McClean and Callum Robinson were ineffective in Tbilisi. McClean's performances are now coming under fierce scrutiny, but McCarthy will remember last month when the determination of the Stoke player shoved a Swiss opponent off the ball and sent in the cross for McGoldrick's leveller.

Saturday was the chance to throw caution to the wind. Against a tougher opponent with the pace to pull teams out of shape, attacking ambition will have to be tempered. Expect Ireland to hang in there and look for a sucker punch.

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