Giovanni Trapattoni is one of the greatest diplomats of our time, and it’s starting to annoy many of us with the hopes and aspirations of Irish football engraved across our hearts.
On Saturday night at Croke Park, Trapattoni’s Irish team committed not one but two sins that would be regarded as mortal in his native Italy.
First, they failed to protect an 87th minute lead goal from Sean St. Ledger against the world champions on their home pitch.
And then, to make matters worse for an Italian who prides himself on attention to detail, they managed to get caught on the counter-attack for Gilardino’s priceless equalizer.
That simple 90th minute goal from the Fiorentina striker sent the Italians into the World Cup finals as Group Eight winners, and Ireland into the playoffs as runners-up.
It sparked great joy among all the Italians in the 70,000 crowd bar two -- Trapattoni and his assistant Marco Tardelli.
They were visibly fuming as they left the Croke Park playing area for the sanctuary of the dressingroom where, as Shay Given confirmed on Tuesday, Trap lost it with his team.
He could not understand, in broken English or his native Italian, why his team had gone all gung-ho after going 2-1 up against the World Cup winners with less than three minutes to go.
He could not understand how John O’Shea had headed a ball straight to Pirlo’s feet in the aftermath of St. Ledger’s incredible goal, nor could he work out why St Ledger went missing when Iaquinta set Gilardino up for a simple finish to send his team to South Africa.
According to the eyewitness report from Given at Tuesday’s press conference, Trap let fly in that Irish dressingroom on Saturday night.
Pity then that less than an hour later he sat down in front of a packed press conference and would admit only to being “disappointed” at the manner in which Ireland conceded that costly late goal.
Okay, so Italy probably would have beaten Cyprus in Parma on Wednesday night to condemn us to the playoffs anyway, but that’s not the point here.
What’s wrong with Trap sharing his anger and frustrations with a bunch of observers, the majority of whom were just as annoyed and frustrated by that Irish defense and the sloppy Italian goal?
And when is this Ireland team going to stop making stupid mistakes in the really big games, when it really matters?
One of the things we were promised when Trapattoni arrived in our midst some 17 months ago was a new found organization after the Staunton era.
To be fair to him, Trap’s Ireland team is harder to beat than it has been at any time since Mick McCarthy was forced back into club management in 2002.
But the one thing Italians excel themselves on is the very thing that is still haunting this Irish team, albeit one now just 180 minutes away from the next World Cup finals -- a rock solid defense.
To get to South Africa via the playoffs Ireland will have to pull out all the stops, especially now that FIFA have confirmed that Monday’s draw for those playoffs will be weighted in favor of the top seeds from France, Portugal, Russia and Greece.
To qualify for a first World Cup since 2002, this Irish team will have to be better not once but twice against the French, the Portuguese, the Russians or the Greeks.
Trap was still insisting on Tuesday that they will go into those knock-out games in a positive mood. He is adamant that the winning mentality within his players is still strong enough to strike fear into any of the aforementioned top four.
But there was little evidence of that in those final three minutes on Saturday when Ireland blatantly failed to protect the 2-1 lead that should have developed into an historic win.
Even the “disappointed” Trap knew as much and admitted that Italy would not have blown such a lead so late in the game, nor would they have conceded a goal on the counter-attack just over two minutes after scoring.
For a year and more now Trap has been preaching at press conferences that it is the “little details” that make all the difference at international level, and we saw as much this past weekend.
If he can iron out the little details with his defenders between now and November, then the likes of France or Portugal might just have something to worry about if we are unlucky enough to draw them in the playoffs.
If he doesn’t stop this Irish habit of conceding stupid goals and at stupid times, then the World Cup dream will be over long before the final whistle in the second leg on November 18.
In the meantime, I’d like really like to know just how angry Trap was in that dressingroom on Saturday night.
Disappointment doesn’t even close to the feelings of most of the people I’ve spoken to since this Irish team threw away the most famous win of their era.
So for once I’d like to know that it hurt the manager as much as it hurt the rest of us.
I’m sure it did -- I just wish he’d tell us the full truth and not the diplomatic truth in such circumstances.
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