Burning Issue: Can Ireland actually beat Germany on Friday?
Having struggled to beat the mighty Kazakhstan last time out, the even mightier Germans are up next for the Boys In Green. Can we actually win? Two JOE staffers argue the case.
Sean Nolan says... Before we start, let’s get all the clichés out of the way. There shall be no mention here of the motivation to stick it to Merkel, no harking back to great past performances against Germany and no hoping for that one big game we produce in every campaign, regardless of the manager.
In reality, for Ireland to beat Germany on Friday we will need any number of things to go our way. Tangible things. Achievable things. If all of these happen, we can give Jogi a Boo Boo on Friday night.
1. Trap plays five in midfield
Anyone who endured Ireland’s Euro 2012 campaign will remember only too well the problems our four-man midfield had against Spain. Germany are not far off the world champs in terms of ball movement and guile in the central areas so an extra body there will protect a weakened back four and make us much more solid. It will mean one up front (hopefully that one will be Shane Long) but that shape gives us the best chance of a win.
2. We nick one against this (slightly) makeshift German defence
With Mats Hummels and Phillip Lahm, Germany conceded a fairly crappy goal to Austria in their last match. Skip to 1.33 in the video to see it.
On Friday, Lahm and Hummels are being replaced by Marcel Schmelzer and Per Mertesacker. Not exactly second-rate replacements but as the saying goes, this German side can be ‘got at’ so Ireland scoring is not a ridiculous statement. And it leads nicely into...
3. We don’t concede
Yes Ireland leaked like a sieve during the Euros but point 1 will go some way to shoring our defence up. But we need more than that. Ideally we would draft in Ciaran Clark and Marc Wilson to start ahead of Darren O’Dea and Stephen Ward but that seems unlikely so we need those two to embody the spirit of Richard Dunne in Moscow less than 12 months ago.
We like the cut of Kieran Westwood’s jib so we think he can keep a clean sheet, especially if Germany remain as shot shy as they were against Austria, managing only five on target, one of which was a penalty. A similar lack of shooting boldness would be no harm at all come Friday.
4. The pitch plays a part, just like the old days
In Jack Charlton’s heyday, the bumpy surface of Lansdowne Road was the rock on which many ball-playing teams foundered. After watching the surface cut up very badly in the Leinster/Munster match on Saturday, the intricate passes that the likes of Ozil, Mueller and Kroos will try and weave could well become unpicked by the troublesome Aviva turf. As we know, it probably won’t trouble us much as we channel Jack again and hoof it.
If we win on Friday, someone should send Lady Gaga a thank you note.
5. The crowd
A boozy Friday night crowd could be just the thing for this game. If the right atmosphere manifests itself, if the bitter memories of Poznan and Gdansk can be buried for 90 minutes, the Aviva crowd can lift this team, just as previous crowds have done in days gone by in D4. We know that endless bars of Come On You Boys In Green can’t fully compensate for the clearly higher skill levels of the opposition, but it can inspire extra commitment and effort, commodities we need in uber-quantities on Friday night.
If, and we are aware it is a big if, these five things align on Friday we can beat Germany. Is it a long shot? Oh yes. It’s 13/2 to be precise (thanks Paddy). Is it impossible? Certainly not.
Conor Heneghan says... As much as I’d like to believe otherwise, Ireland’s only chance of beating Germany on Friday night is if the grounds staff at the Aviva Stadium leave the pitch exactly the way it was after the Leinster v Munster encounter on Saturday night.
That way, slick German passing moves will run asunder in the numerous divots around the pitch and Ireland’s long-ball game might actually flourish in awful conditions, perhaps even aided by a fortunate ricochet or two off a lump of turf in and around the box from which Robbie Keane can benefit.
Being serious for a moment, Ireland’s hopes of an upset rest somewhere between slim and none simply because Germany are one of the best teams in the world at the moment and Ireland are playing as badly as they have at any stage during the Trapattoni era.
And that’s before one takes into account the huge void left by the retirements of Shay Given and Damien Duff, the injuries to long-time Trap servants Richard Dunne, Glenn Whelan and Sean St. Ledger and a baffling selection policy which is likely to see Simon Cox start out wide and Shane Long left on the bench despite being the form striker in the squad at the present moment.
More on Ireland later, but the quality of the opposition this weekend cannot be overestimated. Germany underperformed by their high standards at the Euros, but it took a record-breaking Spain side to beat them in the two national tournaments before that and to make their achievements sound even more impressive, they have been beaten in two competitive games since the final of Euro 2008, to Spain in the 2010 World Cup semi-final and to Italy in the summer.
To borrow an overused stereotype, their national side are a model of ultimate efficiency, having won eight out of ten qualifying games en route to the 2010 World Cup and all ten qualifying games on the road to the Euros.
Then there’s the individual talent at their disposal. The absence of Philipp Lahm, Mats Hummels and Mario Gomez is welcome from an Irish perspective, but only five players in their 20-man squad don’t play in the Champions League and those five players include two substitute goalkeepers, the highly sought-after Andre Schuerrle of Leverkusen and world-renowned goal machine Miroslav Klose. By contrast, only one player in the Ireland squad is currently playing Champions League football, Spartak Moscow’s Aiden McGeady. Yikes!
You could say that Ireland have always punched above their weight on the world stage but to believe the current side can compete with a team as good as Germany requires a fairly lofty flight of imagination.
For starters, we’re missing some of our key lieutenants and will be fielding a makeshift and untested defence that is likely to feature John O’Shea and an MLS defender, Darren O’Dea, as the centre-halves, a man who hasn’t played a minute of Premier League football, Stephen Kelly, at right back and on the opposite side, Stephen Ward, who was searching for form during the Euros and hasn’t seemed to have improved since. Ozil, Podolski, Reus, Gotze and company will be licking their lips.
The word is that Ireland will line out with three in midfield on Friday night and it is a welcome development. It’s one thing playing a system like that out in a few friendlies before implementing it in competition, however, and another thing trying it out for the first time against a team like Germany. After all, we tried to change tack on the hoof against Spain a few months ago and that didn’t really end well, did it?
Besides, from what we’ve learned in the lead-up, Trap is intent on playing the wrong players in the wrong positions in that system, particularly in the front three where Robbie Keane will likely start up front despite being ill-suited to that role. Ditto Simon Cox on the wing. Would Shane Long and Jon Walters not be more suitable alternatives?
All the factors listed above makes the task of beating Germany appear like a nigh on impossible one, but on occasions like this logic often goes out the window so fingers crossed we can achieve what would, under the circumstances, be one of the greatest results of the modern era if we can pull off an upset.
Even a draw would be great, but can I see that happening? I’m afraid not. Can Ireland go one better and actually beat Germany on Friday night? In a word, nein.