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14th Nov 2013

Ireland v Latvia: Three things to watch

Excitement for a meaningless friendly in November is at an all-time high following the arrival of MonKeano and here are three things we'll be keeping an eye on at the Aviva tomorrow night.

Conor Heneghan

Excitement for a meaningless friendly in November is at an all-time high following the arrival of MonKeano and here are three things we’ll be keeping an eye on at the Aviva tomorrow night.

An ovation once again?

Normally the prospect of a mid-season friendly against a team of minnows would be nothing to get excited about but arguably the most exciting thing about tomorrow evening’s game is the fact that there’s actually something to get excited about again. That paragraph exciting enough for you? Good, I’ll continue.

There’s no doubting that the appointment of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane has given football in this country a massive lift when it was most needed and much like the most famous and infamous moments in Irish football history, people with little or no interest in football are jumping aboard the bandwagon, which is no bad thing considering the general mood a month or so ago.

We won’t be able to read much into the actual game of football itself tomorrow night, but it will hopefully mark the return of some fans who might have been inclined to stay away during the latter years of the Trapattoni era and mark a return to our home venue as a fortress of sorts, which certainly hasn’t been the case for some time.

And hopefully the PA won’t have to resort to playing songs during the game in an attempt to gee up the crowd, as was the case in the Irish rugby’s team clash with Samoa last weekend.

Will there be a noticeable change in the style of play?

The style of football employed by Martin O’Neill at his previous clubs didn’t have universal appeal – your humble author, for one, hasn’t always been a huge fan – and it will be interesting to see how he adapts to the demands of the international arena.

O’Neill, to his credit, has already spoken of the tendency of international teams to flood the midfield and while he also added that it isn’t a new phenomenon (he referenced Nottingham Forest’s tactics in the 1980 European Cup Final) one hopes and suspects that he won’t allow Ireland to be overrun in that area as they often were under Trapattoni and as was acknowledged by a number of players.


Will the MonKeano style be noticeable from the off?

We won’t be able to judge O’Neill properly until a reasonable amount of time into his stewardship, but considering that there aren’t a large amount of absentees, we might get an insight into his plans in terms of personnel and formation and how he intends to set his stall out in the coming months.

What of Latvia?

Have Latvia come up in any of the numerous conversations had with Martin O’Neill, Roy Keane or the various players who have appeared in front of the media in the last few days? If they have, then we haven’t heard them mentioned, which merely confirms that the lads from the Baltic state are but a sideshow in the MonKeano circus this weekend.

For the record, Latvia are ranked 117th in the FIFA rankings, where they have the likes of Mozambique, Tajikistan and Equatorial Guinea for company. They’ve won only one of the nine games they’ve played so far in 2013 (a 2-1 win World Cup qualifier win over Lithuania) and while they did draw 3-3 with Turkey, they also suffered a 5-0 home defeat to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The majority of their squad play their football with Skonto Riga, while captain Kaspars Gorkšs plays for Reading and their all-time leading scorer Māris Verpakovskis (a not too shabby 29 goals) lines out for Ergotelis FC in Greece.

Whatever about their players, football fans of a certain generation will certainly remember manager Marian Pahars, a cult hero with Southampton in the late 90s and early to mid-2000s.

For more info on Pahars’ sterling career, read our profile on him here.