San Siro stalemate was fresh boost for our bout with Spain
IT seems almost sinful to take pleasure in the fact that Barcelona looked like a tired team in the San Siro against AC Milan in midweek.
A football club which has done more than its fair share to delight the senses of everyone from purists to barstool gurus over the years rarely attracts such sentiments.
But it must be said, the sight of Andres Iniesta trotting off the pitch in Milan on Wednesday night, bedraggled and clearly physically flogged, was a fine thing to see.
When Xavi too showed signs that the remarkable demands on his mind and body over a number of seasons have left a mark, perhaps even Giovanni Trapattoni sat up an inch or two in his seat.
Barcelona looked physically drained but not because they had played so well against Milan that they had nothing left to give. In fact, they were poor by their own standard and this is very good news for Trapattoni and Ireland.
In the next few months, Barcelona's contingent in the Spanish national squad -- Xavi, Iniesta, Victor Valdes, Sergio Busquets, Carles Puyol, Thiago Alcântara, Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique -- will be involved at the very highest level club football can provide.
With a bit of luck, they'll make it to a Champions League final, which goes all the way to a penalty shoot-out and ends in bitter disappointment while Jose Mourinho cavorts with the trophy.
It would be no great surprise if Barcelona's Spanish contingent all reached a collective physiological wall by the time Euro 2012 comes around.
Just think of the amount of very, very serious football these men have played in the last six years and how few games they have lost in that time.
It must have taken almost super-human levels of performance, fitness and concentration to deliver the World Cup, European Championship, four La Liga titles and three Champions League victories.
Eventually, that must take a toll and if it means that Spain arrive in Poland with a bunch of mentally and physically reduced players, Trapattoni won't complain.
These are small scraps of hope to cling to for Ireland fans fully aware that a Spanish side powered by Barcelona's best playing at their very best is a frightening prospect.
If Russia, Slovakia, Croatia and Serbia were able to pull Trapattoni's system to pieces, imagine what Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas could do if they cut loose.
Of course Spain don't have Lionel Messi to seal the deal but they do have David Silva and he's not a bad man to fill that gap.
Some have suggested that Trapattoni's system is designed to resist teams like Spain and for that reason, Barcelona's midweek adventure in Milan was well worth watching a few times.
Milan did what Trapattoni's Ireland do and gave Barcelona the ball. After that, they hunted, harried and defended heroically and it was good to note that their best players on the night, Alessandro Nesta and Massimo Ambrosini, have lived 70 years between them and will never pull on Azzurri blue again.
Massimiliano Allegri set his team up much as Trapattoni's would and if Barcelona were below their best, at least some of that could be explained by Milan's determination and organisation.
If that sounds familiar, it should. This is the lesson which Trapattoni has been trying to hammer home to his players and the entire Irish nation since he arrived.
For Milan, a 0-0 draw was a decent return from the night but they must do it again and then some in the Nou Camp to stay alive in the Champions League.
On the night of June 14 in Gdansk, a 0-0 draw would do very nicely indeed.