Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Duff can help Ireland to the World Cup finals
Newcastle caretaker boss Chris Hughton says that Damien Duff is ready, willing and able to drive the Ireland side all the way to the World Cup finals in South Africa.
Duff has given Giovanni Trapattoni a boost ahead of Saturday's World Cup qualifier at home to Bulgaria, when he completed 90 minutes for Newcastle in their 3-1 defeat at home to Arsenal, Duff's first taste of action in a month.
The Dublin born player has started in the last three Ireland games under Trapattoni and will win his 73rd cap against Bulgaria at Croke Park before heading to Bari for that crucial game against Italy on April 1st.
And Duff's current club manager, former Ireland assistant boss Hughton, says that Duff's current form can lead Ireland to the World Cup for the first time since 2002.
"Damien is the player Ireland need if they are to get to the World Cup again, and if Damien stays fit for the rest of the campaign I can see him playing a big role for Ireland," Hughton said today.
"He's back to fitness now after being out for a few weeks, Newcastle missed him badly when he was out but he's come back at a good time for Ireland and he will be a key man in the next two matches.
"When you look at the Irish squad, you look to the ones who can make a difference, come up with one thing in a game that could change the course of a match and the campaign, and Damien is like that.
"Ireland are lucky in that they have some big occasion players like that, someone like Robbie Keane can get a goal from anywhere, Kevin Doyle has tremendous form, Aiden McGeady is always dangerous.
"But Damien is one who can create something out of nothing. When Ireland need him he's there and he's a vital player for the squad, he will be very important as the team look for those points against Bulgaria and Italy."
Giovanni Trapattoni assembled his squad in Dublin this morning before an afternoon training session at their Malahide training base and the Irish boss was relieved to see Duff report for duty, though there are some concerns over the fitness of Shay Given and Aiden McGeady.
"Both McGeady and Given are undergoing medicals at their clubs, but I'm sure they will be available for the next training," said Ireland's assistant coach Marco Tardelli.
"Given has a shoulder problem, but I'm sure he will be here for the Bulgaria game."
Meanwhile the FAI have prepared a contingency plan to deal with possible travel chaos on Monday due to a planned strike at Dublin airport.
The Irish squad are due to fly out to Bari at 4pm on Monday but they may need to change their plans if the strike goes ahead, and the panel may instead leave 24 hours early, from Belfast, or else fly out on Tuesday.
"We have at least two options available to us if Monday turns into a difficulty," said FAI CEO John Delaney.
"One would be going Tuesday from Dublin and one would be going Sunday, probably from Belfast. We're in constant contact with SIPTU and the DAA and they are keeping us advised."
Bulgaria only fly in to Dublin on Friday, 24 hours before the game, and the Italian squad will only arrive in Bari from their Tuscany base at 5pm next Tuesday, so Delaney says that coach Trapattoni is not worried about a late arrival.
His club may have just slipped into the relegation zone in England's Premier League, but Newcastle United's caretaker manager Chris Hughton believes that Damien Duff is coming into the kind of form which can drive the Republic of Ireland all the way to the World Cup finals.
Despite the result, a 3-1 defeat at home to Arsenal, Saturday was a big day for Duff as the 30-year-old managed his first full 90 minutes for United in almost two months, and he arrived in Dublin today for international duty ahead of the World Cup double header against Bulgaria and Italy high on confidence, according to Newcastle's stand-in manager.
"Damien is doing very well for us. The only disappointment is when he picks up an injury, which he has done on a couple of occasions this season.
"But his progress has been superb in the last while and he is back to his best, to the stage when he was one of the best players around, in my view," Hughton told the Evening Herald.
"Damien is the player Ireland need if they are to get to the World Cup again, and if Damien stays fit for the rest of the campaign I can see him playing a big role for Ireland.
"When you look at the squad, you look to the ones who can make a difference, come up with one thing in a game that could change the course of a match and the campaign, and Damien is like that. Ireland are lucky in that they have some big occasion players like that, someone like Robbie Keane can get a goal from anywhere, Kevin Doyle has tremendous form, Aiden McGeady is always dangerous.
"But Damien is one who can create something out of nothing. When Ireland need him he's there and he's a vital player for the squad," added Hughton, who worked with Duff in his time as assistant manager with Ireland under Brian Kerr from 2003-2005.
"He's a vital player for this club and for me. The thing that stands out with Damien is that he always wants to do well, he is so gutted when he is out injured and all he wants to do is play and win games for this football club.
"He has been out for the last few weeks but in all that time his attitude was exceptional, he was the ultimate professional, he worked hard all the time to try and get himself back. Every time he has been out it's been a big blow for him, and I think it makes him appreciate it even more when he does get back," added Hughton.
The former Tottenham full-back has some empathy with Giovanni Trapattoni and his coaching staff this week ahead of that massive double header in Dublin and Bari -- Hughton was part of the Irish staff the last time the Republic tried to qualify for a World Cup finals.
Results under Kerr and Hughton were impressive, with just four defeats in 33 games and only one loss in a competitive game, but Ireland still finished fourth in the qualifying group table, behind France, Switzerland and Israel.
"It's a tough group that Ireland have now but the team have had a good start and could get there under Mr Trapattoni. When the group was drawn up I always felt there was at least a chance for second place for Ireland, Italy were going to be favourites to win the group, but Ireland will really challenge them, especially over the next two games," said Hughton
"The team has excelled, especially as the manager hasn't had his full pick of players in some games, key people like Steve Finnan have been missing, so when you take that into account I think Trapattoni has done very well."