Trap's biggest gamble yet
Italian’s inclusion of rookie Cox is main risk in a daring selection for Skopje clash
FOR a man who views risk with the same dyspeptic regard he reserves for those who disagree with his methods, Giovanni Trapattoni has decided to take a right old punt on Simon Cox.
A decision which is as baffling as it is surprising throws a raw novice in at the deep end and no matter how full of self-belief Cox is, this will test him to the limit.
In fact, Trapattoni's team for tonight's crunch Euro 2012 outing in Skopje contains a gamble in all three areas – defence, midfield and attack. Shane Long is the big loser and must be more than a bit confused about the fact that he will start this game on the bench. As the form striker in a squad considerably reduced by withdrawals, he must have expected to start.
Long, according to Marco Tardelli in midweek, is a cast-iron certainty to attract big Premier League money and will be the “key man” in the summer transfer scramble. Now, he's fourth or maybe fifth choice for Ireland behind a man who is, quite literally, a wet day in the job. All things being equal, Trapattoni will always pick Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle and before Jon Walters became embroiled in the ‘no show' saga, he was moving into position behind Ireland's top strike partnership as a serious option.
Now Cox has pushed himself forcefully into the frame and Long must be wondering why the momentum he created in recent games for his country has suddenly been halted. Perhaps Long is tired and emotionally drained after a desperately anti-climactic end to his season at Wembley and Trapattoni believes that it would be a step too far to ask him to do or die in a vital Euro 2012 qualifier. Or perhaps he has seen something in Cox which he feels suits Keane more than Long. Either way, Ireland will start up front with a raw novice and a skipper who, by his own admission, is not fully fit. To be fair to Cox, he grabbed the opportunity he was handed in the Nations Cup with both hands and indeed, both feet, and he shows all the signs of being a major bonus find for Trapattoni and Ireland.
He is so confident in his own ability that the weight of the occasion is unlikely to impact on him although we will only find that out when the game is under way and it's too late to change. So if Cox is his first gamble for this game in Skopje, maybe Keane is his second and if the wheels come off, an even more significant example. Keane was bullish when asked about his injury, which he is now saying was sustained during afterhours shooting practice on Wednesday and not, as appeared to be the case, when he shipped a robust challenge at the feet of Damien Delaney a day later. He will have an injection if he needs it but he seems intent on starting the game and we can but hope that he lasts the pace. Trap's decision to pick Stephen Kelly at right-full instead of Paul McShane is more in keeping with his custom and practice and a reward for the Fulham man's quiet progress in recent games. Kelly has never been prone to the same kind of rash acts which McShane is known for, and his pace will also be important against Macedonia's speedy attack.
But it must be said, Trapattoni's back four is, experimental. John O'Shea and Darren O'Dea have not played together and, of the four, only Kevin Kilbane is picked in the position he's accustomed to. O'Dea is the only regular centreback and his involvement has been sporadic at best, but he stepped up to the plate against Macedonia in the home fixture and Trapattoni obviously believes that his strong physical presence can make up for his very blatant lack of pace. In midfield, Trapattoni has returned to his tried and trusted pairing, despite the fact that Glenn Whelan has been fighting an injury for a week and Keith Andrews is only back on his feet a month after a long lay-off. Andrews was certainly behind the pace in both Nations Cup games but needed games and if his selection is another calculated risk, at least he has the benefit of maturity and experience to help him get through the game.
For Trapattoni to throw the dice in such an uncharacteristic way is a surprise and especially so given the stakes involved. With Russia and Slovakia at home to Armenia and Andorra respectively tonight, any slip-up in Skopje could be catastrophic and leave Ireland in third place during the summer break. With four games left in the autumn, wriggle room would be down to a minimum and a win in Moscow almost mandatory.