Italy masterclass loosens Kerr's grip on Ireland job

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Certainly, as a rehearsal for next month's vital World Cup qualifier against a re-born France the 2-1 defeat did little to instil belief. Damien Duff, Ireland's talisman, and never one to shirk an honest response, was clear. "It's going to take a special performance," he said when asked about beating the French. "I'd be lying if I said otherwise."

Duff went on to say that Ireland "have it in us" to produce such a display and already the memories of the compelling victory against the Netherlands four years ago are being recalled. Then Ireland won on their way to the last World Cup although, interestingly, their then manager Mick McCarthy declined an invitation to play Italy in the run-up.

His successor Brian Kerr embraced this fixture - indeed he declared he had personally arranged it with Italy's coach Marcello Lippi - but came in for some fearful criticism yesterday over his tactics. His hold on the job is slipping and it appears increasingly unlikely that Kerr, who saw a 17-match unbeaten run at Lansdowne Road end, will survive should Ireland fail to qualify.

The deficiencies are clear. "We need to tighten up. We're giving away easy goals," Duff said. "In the Israel game here it was exactly the same. It's definitely something we have to look." Such sloppiness is chipping away at confidence.

Shay Given agreed and, although he rightly pointed out that the two Keanes, Roy and Robbie, were sorely missed, he also suggested that an ill-judged change in formation had also not worked. "I think it took us time to get used to it," Given said. "But they [Italy] showed in that first half-hour what a good team they are and we also left ourselves a little bit open. Maybe we should have been more compact."

Given also admitted that Ireland had to "weather the storm" and had endured a "learning curve". Indeed, Italy could have been four or five goals ahead in that opening half and it was a distinct warning to Scotland, their next opponents.

But, as well as they played, they were undoubtedly aided by Kerr's tactics. Quite why he changed to 4-5-1 was unfathomable, even if he defended the decision by saying that he was making use of the personnel available. But that excuse wore thin.

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