Bring On Italy!
All eyes will be on the World Cup play-off draw next Tuesday and of course the question on everybody’s lips is who would Republic of Ireland prefer to get?
Luck Of The Draw
Italy and Croatia of course look like the teams to avoid, but the latter is more of a worry in my opinion. I have seen a lot of Italy in this qualification campaign as well as their last one and they aren’t actually a side that are going to come out and dominate you, but Croatia are a team that can really hurt you with the attacking talent they’ve got.
Luka Modric has a great range of passing and that would be a particularly tricky tie.
Plenty will be looking at Switzerland and Denmark as the two preferred options but look at the qualifying record of the Swiss. Up until the last game when they got beat by Portugal they had won every single game and while people may say the opposition wasn’t up to much, I saw their game against Portugal and they were very strong, very physical and they have real pace. Many would still prefer them or Denmark over the other two, but here comes the old cliché, any game is going to be difficult.
A lot was made of Gareth Bale’s absence before the Wales game but Coleman, Walters and Long were huge absentees for Republic of Ireland. Collectively, were that trio more of a miss than Bale? Of course they were. They have proved their importance to the Irish team over the course of the last few years but it says a lot about the spirit of the team when the players were able to overcome these losses.
Craig Bellamy was confident beforehand that Wales had the better players but they didn’t bring the same spirit to the game as Republic of Ireland, epitomised by the two Derry men Shane Duffy and James McClean. Duffy has been playing well for Brighton this season and was outstanding in what was probably his best Ireland performance on such a big occasion, while
McClean hasn’t got enough credit for finishing with his wrong foot the way he did for the goal.
Their spirit went throughout the whole side; from David Meyler, to Ciaran Clark and to Darren Randolph in goal. When I arrived in Cardiff I just sensed we were going to witness another big night of Irish international football. It transcended onto the pitch, the players responded to the crowd and we got one of those great nights. Afterwards the Irish really took over Cardiff and the atmosphere was incredible.
Back With A Bang
The atmosphere at Anfield on Saturday afternoon will also be super-charged and what a way for the Premier League to return.
Last season Mourinho parked the bus in this fixture and I do think Manchester United will keep it tight early on, but the game should open up. United have too much attacking power and pace in their side now with Lukaku, Mkhitaryan and whichever of Martial or Rashford gets the nod.
With Liverpool’s defensive woes this season I don’t expect to see another 0-0 draw.
Klopp has rested players coming back from long international trips in the past and we have Firmino and Coutinho coming back from South America, while Mo Salah is coming back after scoring a crucial injury time penalty to send Egypt to the World Cup this week.
I used to think that you were barely recovered from international duty by the time Saturday came and this week in particular will have been draining on a lot of international players who may only get one training session in before the weekend.
There may be a bit of legginess in the early kick-off at Anfield as it’s too big a game for resting players and there may even be a glaring mistake or two this weekend in the Premier League. I fancy a draw in the big one but there’s far too much in the game to suggest it’ll be goalless this time.