Swiss bogeymen loom as Kerr seeks to put record straight

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The Independent Football

Even though he is a student of modern management, Brian Kerr is unlikely to be aware of the finer points of Jungian psychology. But when he returns tomorrow to the city where the Swiss doctor first started his studies - Basle - the Republic of Ireland's manager could do worse, along with pondering his midfield permutations, than acknowledge the thinking behind Jung's theory of synchronicity.

Even though he is a student of modern management, Brian Kerr is unlikely to be aware of the finer points of Jungian psychology. But when he returns tomorrow to the city where the Swiss doctor first started his studies - Basle - the Republic of Ireland's manager could do worse, along with pondering his midfield permutations, than acknowledge the thinking behind Jung's theory of synchronicity.

It was defeat by Switzerland last autumn - in the same St Jakob Park Stadion where the two nations meet on Wednesday - that ended Ireland's hopes of qualifying for Euro 2004. It was the second occasion they had played in the stadium, and they have lost both times without scoring. Furthermore, it was defeat by Switzerland in Dublin that ended Mick McCarthy's reign as Ireland's manager two years ago. Now, as then, the two sides meet in the second match of a qualifying campaign. Defeat again and Kerr's position would come under severe pressure. Meaningful coincidences? Jung would surely agree.

Not that Kerr will lose his job if Ireland are defeated in midweek. That would not come until the end of the campaign, but with France also in their World Cup qualification group, Kerr knows that he has to take points from the Swiss. "If we win our first match," Kerr said ahead of yesterday's game against Cyprus, "then a draw would certainly be acceptable, especially as they beat us twice last time.

"Obviously there is the attitude that this is the start of a competition, and we need to get something."

The circumstances are indeed very different. Then, Ireland had to win. Instead they limply lost 2-0 and played as poorly as anyone can remember. The memory remains raw for the players, many of whom are still smarting from the experience. "They got an early goal which obviously settled them, but we didn't do enough," Kerr admits. It was all the more frustrating as he had dragged Ireland back from the bottom of their group to the brink of qualifying.

The Swiss match, indeed, was the only time during Kerr's stewardship that Ireland's destiny was in their own hands. Explaining that would keep a team of psychologists busy, but Kerr offers a simple explanation. "We had a few chances but they [Switzerland] got carried along, I think, by the whole occasion," he says. "The crowd on the night was very passionate, and it went well for them and didn't go well for us.

"But things have changed. We've got different players, they've mainly got the same players. With the other one [match] there was no choice. We had to win. It was the last match and that's why it was such a positive selection. With this one, maybe, we won't have to win."

Interestingly Kerr was adamant, when it came to drawing up the fixtures for Group Four, that he wanted to play Switzerland and France away (Ireland travel to Paris next month) as soon as possible. He wanted to meet the most difficult games head on and give Ireland home ties to finish with. Conversely, he risks a barren start, but is prepared.

Kerr also knows that Switzerland's participation in Portugal may have made them even trickier opponents. Statistics, he said, because he has studied them, do not back up the perceived wisdom that teams who play in summer tournaments start the following season badly.

Nevertheless, the Swiss will be missing Stéphane Chapuisat, who has finally retired, while Alexander Frei, who scored last time against Ireland, is banned after spitting at Steven Gerrard in Euro 2004.

One player who will be there is Johan Vonlanthen, the 18-year-old who snatched away Wayne Rooney's record as the youngest goalscorer in that competition. "He's good on the ball and very strong," says Kerr. He watched Switzerland's recent match with Northern Ireland, and although praising their "movement and passing" and "consistent rhythm", he will take heart from the failure to break down their opponents.

Ireland are also missing key players - not least Roy Keane, who has cracked ribs, and whose return from international exile had been executed with this fixture, and next month's, in mind. Kerr, to his credit, brushes aside such concerns. "It's up to us to perform better than last time round," he says. "We need to be better all over the pitch."

He will not be showing a tape of the last meeting, partly because his team have changed so much in the intervening months. "I don't see any great value in going over old ground, however bad it was," he says.

"They know inside how bad it was, as a collective performance, so they don't need me to be harping on. The individuals will be determined to correct that." And that should be motivation enough.

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