Giovanni Trapattoni declares Ireland will finish top of their group

As a vote of confidence in his Republic of Ireland players, the one that Giovanni Trapattoni delivered in the aftermath of this vital victory over Macedonia took some beating.

Giovanni Trapattoni declares Ireland will finish top of their group The manager assessed the state of his team's Euro 2012 qualifying group and he declared that he had but one nagging fear.

It was not the mercurial threat of Russia or the emerging force that is Slovakia. Nor was it the prospect of the return fixture against Macedonia in June, when the heat in Skopje will burn on more than one level. Trapattoni glanced to the sky and he suggested that only fate's cruel hand could deny his adopted nation a place at the finals next summer as group winners.

"I am afraid only about injuries, because even if we have good options, it's always better to put your best players out," Trapattoni said. "With this attitude, I am sure ... not sure ... I am very, very confident that we can finish in first position. If the team is in good condition for Skopje, for example, I think that we have a very good opportunity to win. The team must believe in themselves."

Ireland completed the first half of the job against Macedonia in Dublin, aided by two ugly blunders from Edin Nuredinoski, the visitors' stand-in goalkeeper, but thoughts inevitably drifted towards Skopje and the season's final tie. Win there and hopes would surge.

Trapattoni and Ireland know all about fate's cruel hand from their efforts to qualify for the 2010 World Cup (no names necessary here) but during the campaign they showed that they were a match for anyone with their best players available.

Trapattoni simply hopes they can make it to Macedonia and the stifling summer temperatures there in reasonable condition. "In my experience, players play in all the games and they risk getting to June and being empty," he said. "Damien Duff? I say, 'My God, look after him.' It would be great if we could get to Skopje in the same condition that we have now."

Trapattoni said he had watched Kevin Doyle putting in the hard yards for Wolverhampton Wanderers with a degree of trepidation. In the 16th minute against Macedonia, the striker twisted and crumpled to the turf. His season could be over with knee ligament damage. Richard Dunne, another Ireland mainstay, is now suspended after he picked up a second yellow card.

Ireland, though, got the result on Saturday without three regular members of the back five – Shay Given, John O'Shea and Sean St Ledger – and the stand-ins emerged with credit, particularly the goalkeeper Keiren Westwood, who made a one-on-one block from Ivan Trickovski in the 75th minute. Trapattoni suggested Kevin Foley could continue at right-back in Skopje, with O'Shea, who should be fit again, replacing Dunne in central defence. Darren O'Dea was the third competitive debutant to start against Macedonia and he was praised for his handling of Goran Pandev.

Trapattoni has released Dunne, Kevin Kilbane, Duff and Robbie Keane to their clubs before the friendly at home to Uruguay on Tuesday; Kilbane was on the substitutes' bench for Huddersfield Town against Notts County on Sunday afternoon, and opportunity will knock for the nation's less experienced players.

Of them, James McCarthy is causing the greatest excitement. Wigan Athletic's Glasgow-born midfielder was given a standing ovation when he came on as an 87th‑minute substitute; his competitive debut, finally, to borrow his phrase, "putting to bed" the issue of his international allegiance.

Asked who the 20-year-old reminded him of, Trapattoni dropped the names of Michel Platini, Gianni Rivera and Sandro Mazzola. No pressure, then.

McCarthy will start against Uruguay, possibly as a second striker, which could see Trapattoni tinkering with his rigid 4-4-2 formation. When the serious business resumes, however, the Italian will seek to embrace the tried and trusted.

Powered by article was written by David Hytner at the Aviva Stadium, for The Guardian on Monday 28th March 2011 07.01 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

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