Thursday, March 5, 2009

Italian boss views Ireland as biggest threat

Italian manager Marcello Lippi is preparing himself for a tough game against Ireland when the sides meet in a World Cup qualifier in Bari on April 1st. Lippi, who was in Dublin last month to watch Ireland’s 2-1 qualifier win against Georgia, is coming round to the view that Ireland, coached by his old rival, Giovanni Trapattoni, may well represent the biggest obstacle on the Italian road to South Africa.

The Ireland I saw in Dublin was a team full of enthusiasm. They conceded a goal in the opening minute and then they really risked it because just a few seconds before the Irish equaliser, the Georgians hit the post and scored an offside goal.

“Basically, in the space of seconds, Ireland went from being almost 0-2 down to equalising. But that’s football now, you can lose against any team these days. In the end, the real Ireland emerged, that is a team which has some very good players, guys like (Aiden) McGeady and (Damien) Duff on the flanks. This is a side full of physically strong players, like the centre forward (Kevin) Doyle. All in all, this is a good side that merits plenty of respect.”

Asked by The Irish Times if he had noticed the “hand” of his erstwhile colleague Trapattoni at work, Lippi replied: “You can see the hand, the foot and the head of Il Trap at work in this side.”

Lippi argues the qualifier against Ireland comes at a psychologically delicate moment of the season when at club and country level, results may prove to have long-term implications: “This is an important month not just for Italian football but for all European football. We’re now at the cup tie stage of the Champions League, an elimination and March can mean that for some clubs the whole season has been a total failure. And right in the middle of this come these World Cup qualifiers.”

Win, lose or draw against Ireland, Lippi takes great pride in the fact an Italian colleague will be sitting in the manager’s seat of the opposing team. Asked about the current standing of Italian football, he replied: “For so long, the Anglo-Saxon world has looked down its nose at Italian football and tended to jeer us and yet, just look, the current coach of England is an Italian, while you have Trapattoni in Ireland. I think that speaks for itself and answers your question.”

Looking forward to the Ireland game, Lippi said it was much too early to speculate about his ideal lineout for the Bari encounter for the good reason that the match was still one month away and that before meeting Ireland, Italy first have a difficult away game against Montenegro in Podgorica.

Lippi, who led Italy to World Cup triumph in Germany three years ago, confirmed yesterday he was glad to be back at the helm of the Italian side, having taken over from Roberto Donadoni immediately after last summer’s European Championship finals in Austria and Switzerland. Looking back on his decision to resign as Italy coach immediately after the Germany World Cup, he said that within one month of giving up the job, he realised he had made a huge mistake. Life without football was just too boring.

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