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Wednesday 20 November 2019

Winning with bit of style would set out stall

Euro 2020 qualifier: Ireland v Switzerland (Live RTE2/Sky Sports 7.45)

Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy during a training session at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown
Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy during a training session at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown
Irish players (l-r) James McClean, Shane Duffy and Seamus Coleman

Long before a ball was due to be kicked, the phoney war had started.

Asked for their views on opponents Ireland in tonight's Euro 2020 qualifier, the Swiss camp reached into the Big Book Of Clichés and came out with the usual: physical, aggressive, tough, set-pieces, passionate.

The initial reaction in Ireland when clichés are thrown our way is to get outraged... then we remember the grim, grey football played by the boys in green through that dismal year that was 2018 so we need to take a step back and accept that within the cliche lies some truth - Ireland have been truly awful to watch for a good while now.

Mick McCarthy knows that he will have gained the same three points at 9.35pm tonight whether Ireland have blown Switzerland away with a blistering display, or nicked a win with a lucky deflection from an injury-time corner kick.

In fact he doesn't even care about how the point, or points, are achieved.

"At the end of it, I'm not really worried. If we win 1-0 and it's ugly, not pleasant I'll be fine with it. You know that," he said yesterday.

Stylish

He's not alone in that. One of his predecessors, Giovanni Trapattoni, was perpetually fed up with the demand in Ireland for stylish football to go with results.

"We are not about theatre, like La Scala or Madison Square Gardens. Football is ball, pitch, opponent and mentality. The show is show. Result is result. This is our belief," Trap once said.

But tonight is a chance for Ireland to try and do both, put on a show and put a serious dent in Swiss hopes of qualifying for the Euro finals for what would be their fourth time in five attempts.

"We can certainly dent their hopes if we beat them but you could be asking their manager the same question and he would probably say the same thing abut us," the Ireland manager feels.

McCarthy has had a pretty clear run at this game, no major injuries (bar the non-appearance of long-term absentees Robbie Brady and James McCarthy, neither of who would be fit to play this week and Matt Doherty, who would not have started), and no suspensions.

The palpable anger among the Irish support at the FAI regime, evident in that protest at home to Georgia last time out, has largely died off, no tennis balls expected tonight.

The Irish camp is also a controversy-free zone, no questions for McCarthy on why he had left X player out of his squad (bar Shane Long and even then, there is no campaign or outcry as happened in the past with the likes of Andy Reid or Matt Doherty).

And there is the backstop option of calling up the likes of Troy Parrott or Aaron Connolly for Tuesday's friendly against Bulgaria if needed.

Swiss coach Vladimir Petkovic can only envy McCarthy this smooth run, as Switzerland's build-up to the game has been dominated by an absent friend, the no-show that is Xherdan Shaqiri.

At his first press conference of the week, Petkovic spent 30 minutes dealing with questions about Shaqiri and just three minutes discussing his squad. The media office of the Swiss FA then moved to tell players not to answer questions about Shaqiri.

Those advantages aside, McCarthy still has a game to play, against a stroung opponent. The Swiss as they know that defeat in Dublin (and they have lost in five of their last seven visits here) would leave them with a real mountain to climb in terms of making it to Euro 2020.

But beating the Swiss with a swagger would allow this team raise its head. Before this campaign began, Ireland dominating at home in a competitive game was rare.

There were narrow home wins (Moldova, Georgia), smash-and-grab raids (Germany) and cases of getting the job finished at home after the hard work was already done (Estonia, Bosnia).

Improvement

The performance at home to Georgia in March was good, a vast improvement on recent, unconvincing displays against the Georgians. But taking the game to the Swiss and getting a win and a performance would lay down a marker for the rest of the campaign, and the development of this group as a team.

McCarthy's first spell as Ireland manager ended in acrimony, that awful defeat in Moscow and then the deflating, fatal, loss against the Swiss in Dublin.

With such a dark cloud hanging over him at the end, it's easy to forget just how good things were at times under McCarthy: not just the record against Holland and Portugal in the 2002 World Cup qualifiers but also the home wins over Croatia and Yugoslavia (as they were called then) in the Euro 2000 qualifiers.

Those were not just big wins but pleasing performances, good football played by good players who were all at big clubs.

The 1999 era McCarthy was blessed with a better squad, most of them Premier League regulars. But if McCarty can persuade this side to up their levels from the win over Georgia, the rest of the group would have to take note.

"We are under pressure to get a good result as it is our home game," McCarthy says.

"Whatever they [the Swiss] feel does not really affect me. I don't get into that. I think the pressure is on us as it's our home game and we have to do something tomorrow night."

Winning will suit McCarthy but winning with style will send a message.

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