Saturday, May 30, 2009
Trapattoni praise for Ireland debutants
Giovanni Trapattoni hailed the new-found richness of his squad after seeing an Ireland side featuring six debutants emerge from a rugged friendly with Nigeria with a 1-1 draw. The Africans also fielded an experimental line-up but the Irish manager said his makeshift team's display gave him renewed hope for the future.
"I was a little bit afraid before this match because Nigeria are not just one of the best sides in Africa but in the world," said the Italian. "They are faster and stronger than European teams and are also very at ease with the ball. But our new players showed great performances and personality and now I have real options for the future."
Some of the newcomers will have made stronger impressions than others. The Coventry City striker Leon Best was perhaps the most promising, his robustness and dynamism giving him a menacing presence up front. Though Trapattoni expects Caleb Folan to be fit for next week's World Cup qualifier in Bulgaria, he admitted that Best could fill the role if required.
"He showed he can be a strong target man and this is what we want because it allows Robbie to have the space to play between the midfield and the striker," said Trapattoni. Keane and Best linked well, the Tottenham Hotspur player twice putting his young partner through on goal only for Best's shots to be repelled first by Sam Sodje and then by the goalkeeper Austin Ejide. Best also headed against the post after another debutant, Sean St Ledger, had nodded a Liam Lawrence free-kick back across goal.
With right-back a regular area of concern for Ireland, Kevin Foley was perhaps the newcomer that Ireland most needed to succeed but the Wolves defender endured a difficult introduction to international football. He was at fault for Nigeria's goal, Mike Enemaro exploiting his sluggishness to turn a low Femi Olubayo cross into the net from seven yards.
That setback roused Ireland and they twice went close before Keane equalised eight minutes later, collecting a canny Keith Andrews through-ball before rounding the goalkeeper and rolling the ball into the net. "The first half was a very beautiful game and our goal was lovely," gushed Trapattoni.
The second period was less attractive, mainly because both managers made a raft of changes as their attention shifted to next week's qualifiers.
Ireland had the majority of possession but lacked the creativity to conjure clear-cut chances. A miscued clearance by Ejide gave them their best opportunity of the second half but the goalkeeper redeemed himself by acrobatically flipping Shane Long's 30-yard lob wide.
Despite all the new faces, it was a familiar figure whom Trapattoni singled out for praise. After seeing Keane claim his 39th international goal, Trapattoni enthused: "He was great again and his morale is very high now. He is so important for us because he is the one who gives time to our other players."