Giovanni Trapattoni likes defensive experience and solidity.
He does not like to gamble, particularly in matches when so much is at stake. The Republic of Ireland manager could, therefore, be forgiven for feeling a little queasy when he sends out his team to face Macedonia at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday in what must be considered as a must-win Euro 2012 qualifier.
In his back five will be three unheralded figures who have never played in a competitive international. The Coventry City goalkeeper Keiren Westwood, the Wolverhampton Wanderers right-back Kevin Foley and the on-loan Ipswich Town centre-half Darren O'Dea have 12 caps among them. All of them came in friendlies.
Ireland have painful memories of Macedonia from two ties against them in the late 1990s, which damaged qualifying campaigns that had promised much. "Having a Macedonia" entered the vernacular. The fear is that the headline writers might dust down the phrase.
Trapattoni's hand has been forced by the injuries to Shay Given, John O'Shea and, most cruelly, Sean St Ledger, who hurt his knee in training on Tuesday. Trapattoni has preferred O'Dea to Aston Villa's Ciaran Clark, who is even less experienced with one cap from the friendly win over Wales last month. Richard Dunne and Kevin Kilbane, who complete the backline, will need to show all of their know-how. Incredibly, it will be Kilbane's 65th consecutive start in a competitive tie.
Trapattoni, though, said all the right things about the rookies, how they had his trust and confidence and he might have also pointed to the example of St Ledger, to whom he handed a competitive debut in the vital World Cup qualifier away to Bulgaria in June 2009, on only his second cap. The Preston North End player excelled and he has made the position in central defence his own.
"I am optimistic," Trapattoni said. "I've seen again that the team's mentality is very fresh, full of enthusiasm. We must believe. We need all of our performers. We have to be confident about the work we've done and I'm happy that the team has understood. In football, there are two situations. There is the friendly or the show and there is the result. We look for the result."
Trapattoni will demand that his experienced players, chiefly Dunne, Kilbane, Damien Duff and the captain, Robbie Keane, exert control, set the tempo and create space. Keane, however, made the point that "people like Westwood, Foley and O'Dea have played the game for a while. It's not like they are young kids."
Keane admitted that he was "certainly not match fit", having been on the pitch for only 22 minutes in a West Ham United first-team shirt since he injured his calf on 6 February. His rehabilitation sounds unconventional, although it did help him to return slightly ahead of schedule. Together with his injured clubmate, Jack Collison of Wales, he spent time inside an ice chamber (temperature -140 degrees) and there was an unexpected third party in with them.
"Frank Bruno was there," Keane said. "It was bizarre. He was singing Danny Boy. I don't know what he was doing there. I went in the chamber for a few weeks where you do two sessions a day for nine minutes. You don't want to be in there for any longer, trust me."
It seems unlikely that Keane will last the 90 minutes and Trapattoni might replace him with James McCarthy, who he said would definitely make his competitive debut as a substitute. Trapattoni was unconcerned by Keane's fitness – he would be happy with 60 productive minutes from him – and he admitted that his principal worry was Macedonia's aerial threat on set-pieces.
The visitors have, Trapattoni said, at least five tall players and the concern might explain, in part, why he has picked Darron Gibson in central midfield, instead of Paul Green. Gibson's greater offensive threat was also a factor.
Trapattoni's other worry is that his team commit too many players forward against opponents who will be compact and look to strike at pace on the counter. It will be a night for balance, precision and ruthlessness in the final third. And, of course, for nerves of steel.
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