Trapattoni's unbeaten run with Ireland is ended by the Poles

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Judging by the fact that half of Dublin's Croke Park stadium seemed filled with Poles on last night, it looked a sure fire bet that you'd have struggled to find a decent plate of ziemiaki, kotlet and kapusta in Dublin city – meat, potato and cabbage, to you and me.

Indeed, there was little likelihood of any late night meal in one of the Polish restaurants in the Irish capital after Poland trimmed the sails of Giovanni Trapattoni's Republic of Ireland side. A 3-2 home defeat, with both of Ireland's goals coming in a frantic finale, was certainly not to the taste of the veteran Italian.

As Trapattoni's fellow Italian traveller Fabio Capello was enjoying very different fortune in Berlin with England, Ireland's manager and his Italian assistant Marco Tardelli, were frowning, gesturing and looking thoroughly exasperated on the Croke Park touchline. Nor was that simply because most of the concerted noise and emotion was coming from the red and white hordes, Irish residents nowadays of course, who lit flaming red torches, performed vibrant Mexican waves and generally gave the impression that they have every confidence they'll be booking trips to South Africa for the 2010 soccer World Cup.

This is an age of elderly football statesmen taking key overseas postings; witness, Capello and Trapattoni. But anticipated Italian hegemony suffered a reverse in Dublin's fair city on Wednesday night as a wily old Dutchman, Leo Beenhakker, sent out a highly competitive and no little skilled Polish side.

Of course, Beenhakker is one of the great names of European club football – Ajax Amsterdam and Real Madrid to name but two of his former clubs. But in the unlikely environment of Warsaw, Beenhakker is quietly and shrewdly compiling another decent Polish team. And no Englishman still of sound memory will receive that message with anything but alarm.

To see Beenhakker's carefully constructed and professionally organised side outwit Ireland was a distressing sight for Signors Trapattoni and Tardelli. Ireland had not a trace of the ball skills and control the Poles constantly demonstrated, and they enhanced that easy, comfortable control with some inventive, intricate attacking patterns. They scored three, all excellent goals, one of them a sublime shot by Roger Guerreiro, the Brazilian born substitute who is the owner of one of the most cultured left boots in the European theatre.

Yet Poland missed one other goal which would have capped a move of such silky smooth finesse, it could have come straight off a fashion designer's dummy. Beenhakker's hand is writ large upon this side.

Trapattoni believes Ireland are firmly on course for World Cup qualification. Second at present in Group 8 behind Italy, Ireland, who it must be said were without the inspirational Robbie Keane this week, play Georgia and then Bulgaria in Dublin next February and March, before heading to Rome to confront the Italians and another smart Italian operator, Marcello Lippi. The Italian Job film has nothing on the jobs these Italians are doing across the European football map.

But if Trapattoni's belief that Ireland can wrest a point from their march on Rome is to prove something other than wishful thinking, he will need to discover a man of stature to drive Ireland's midfield. Kevin Doyle was full of neat touches up front, Damien Duff worked hard and put himself in some propitious situations without ever finishing them. But Ireland badly lacked a Roy Keane, an intimidating figure, a driver and inspirer at the heart of their game. Unless they can unearth one, their World Cup ambitions may start to look as grey as their manager's hair.

To see the teams of Beenhakker and Trapattoni, a couple of cunning old European football foxes, attempting to out-plot each other was a rare treat in Dublin this week. Master tacticians both, they have already digested and then forgotten more about this old game than most managers of contemporary times will ever know.

Right now, as 2008 comes towards its close and the pressure of qualification for the 2010 World Cup mounts, you have to say Poland looked in better shape than Ireland this week.