Euro 2012: Picking the Ideal Republic of Ireland Starting XI to Beat Italy

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistJune 17, 2012

Euro 2012: Picking the Ideal Republic of Ireland Starting XI to Beat Italy

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    Republic of Ireland's Euro 2012 campaign comes to an end Monday evening as they play their remaining Group C fixture against Italy, country of their own manager Giovanni Trapattoni.

    When this group was drawn late last year, Trapattoni may have envisioned a dream scenario that saw both teams going into the final game with qualification virtually sealed.

    More realistically, he will probably have pinpointed it as a game Ireland would have needed to win to make it through if they were still in contention, with the hope his countrymen had already safely qualified.

    Instead the Ireland boss faces the worst possible scenario personally, knowing that to restore some pride his team will have to dump the Italians out of the tournament.

    Trapattoni will of course not give a second thought to doing what he can to beat them, but it promises an unsatisfactory ending for him to a European Championships campaign that has grown increasingly negative in recent days with criticism from former Republic captain Roy Keane grabbing the headlines.

    Keane, currently working as a television analyst for ITV in England, has called for wholesale changes in order to give others experience in place of the more established players he believes have failed miserably.

    Unfortunately, he fails to consider that beyond attacking positions, there is little talent elsewhere within the squad likely to come in and improve things against an Italy team hunting for a vital win.

    Still, for Ireland's best chance of heading home with any semblance of positivity with a win (or at least a well-fought draw) against Italy, alterations to the team do need to be made.

    Trapattoni will still need to call upon most of the players he has utilised so far, and try to get of them one last big effort before attention turns to 2014 World Cup qualifiers.

    Along with them, some concessions to the future may have benefits in the present.

    There is recent precedent to suggest Trapattoni and his team may have the number of Monday's opposition, having beaten the Italians 2-0 in a friendly in June 2011.

    Neither side were at full strength, and a friendly match can not compare with its tournament equivalent, but right now the Irish have to find confidence wherever they can.

Goalkeeper: Shay Given

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    So far, Shay Given is the only one of the Ireland's veteran players to suggest he will retire from the international game after Euro 2012.

    If so, the Italy game will be his last, and whilst there is little room for sentiment on such a big stage, Given should still be the man to continue in-goal regardless.

    There have been enough good saves from the Aston Villa player to show he is still a top performer in his position, even if fitness issues have restricted him.

    With the end in sight for both his team and possibly him, Given will want to go out in the best way possible and will provide Ireland with their best chance of keeping the Italians out.

Right-Back: John O'Shea

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    Had Everton's Seamus Coleman been in the squad, there would have been an argument for giving him a try at this point.

    But with Stephen Kelly, a solid but not especially youthful (nor remarkable) player, as the next best right-back, there seems little point in removing John O'Shea at this stage.

    He joins his fellow Irish defenders in not having excelled at this tournament, but neither has he been exposed as ruthlessly as others have. He should be dependable enough again in doing a job down his own flank.

Centre-Back: Richard Dunne

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    Spain's first goal against Ireland just about summed up Richard Dunne's tournament.

    He won a typically robust challenge, dispossessing David Silva on the edge of his penalty area, but was then unable to get it away before an alert Fernando Torres jumped in and proceeded to dispatch a comprehensive finish.

    Though hard-working, Dunne has not been the commanding presence at the heart of the Irish defence he would have hoped to have been.

    However, there is no better man in the squad to have with your backs against the wall, as they certainly will be against the Italians for some periods at least. And Dunne may yet muster one performance to do himself justice.

Centre-Back: Sean St Ledger

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    There is little point in breaking up the Dunne/St Ledger central defensive partnership now. Opting for comparative unfamiliarity in the position between whoever might come in would just be foolish, especially as the Italian attack will cause problems whatever.

    So Sean St Ledger, who has not yet looked up to the class of this level, will remain in place and will hopefully have learned something from the difficult experiences of the first two games.

Left-Back: Stephen Ward

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    Stephen Ward can probably claim to have actually had a better game against Spain then he did Croatia, clearly relishing the challenge of taking on the reigning champions of the European Championships.

    It was not an easy night by any means, and he was shown up at times by the skill and speed of the opposition. But he won his share of tackles and was not afraid to get stuck in when he could.

    With Italy playing wing-backs, Ward might on occasion find the space to get in behind them and their midfield for a foray forward.

    Knowing he is already going home after this, that knowledge of opportunity might just free up his attacking instincts to match the growing confidence in defence.

Right Midfield: Damien Duff

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    Damien Duff has been one of the biggest disappointments of the Republic's tournament and has not hurt teams in the final third the way he is capable.

    That might be a big ask of a player who is past his prime, but anyone who has seen him in the Premier League for Fulham this last season knows those bursts of pace and a dangerous final ball are still there.

    Given this match will be his 100th cap, Trapattoni is unlikely to dispense with him now, instead choosing to hope the sense of occasion will inspire a performance befitting of a player who is much better than what he has shown.

Centre Midfield: Darron Gibson

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    Darron Gibson has yet to appear at Euro 2012, but he might be one of the few Irishmen with the ability to get them passing and keeping hold off the ball for longer than a few seconds.

    Trapattoni's instinct in midfield might be to once more focus on stopping the Italians play. But considering their midfield consists of playmaker extraordinaire Andrea Pirlo that seems a hopeless task, especially seeing as they haven't been able to do so in either of their games so far.

    This is not to say they should abandon any pretence of trying to deny the Italians space and time, just that Ireland might try helping their own cause a little more with a tad more positivity.

    Gibson isn't in Pirlo's class, but he is probably his team's best bet of getting the ball to the players who can make a difference further forward.

Centre Midfield: Keith Andrews

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    Having selected Gibson in this team, that means one of Keith Andrews or Glenn Whelan making way.

    The decision to stick with Andrews goes on (against Croatia especially). He has played with a certain tenacity absent in Whelan's game.

    While neither have been successful in combating the superior oppositions they have faced in midfield, Andrews has at least left more of a mark on the tournament, as he has looked to pressure them as best as possible and has even attempted to get forward.

    Whelan's job has not been to do the latter. His consists of focusing on the defensive side of things.

    But with Ireland needing to take some risks to try and get any points now, it is time to throw caution to the wind, and that means a midfield that is not so much focused on destruction as it is possession.

Left Midfield: James McClean

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    James McClean finally got his chance at this tournament against Spain, coming on with around 15 minutes left in the 4-0 loss.

    Despite his best intentions to get on the ball and run at the Spanish, he was not able to get into any rhythm and was easily stopped.

    Still, with Aiden McGeady having been so ineffective, McClean is definitely worth another try.

    Perhaps a youthful fearlessness will free him up in a way neither McGeady or Duff have been and allow him to affect a game like he can.

    McClean has speed and satisfying willingness to dribble and take on players, not to mention crossing that might just at last service Ireland's neglected forwards.

    It will be an interesting test in that he will come up against a wing-back system he is not necessarily familiar with (at least not from his time playing for Sunderland in the Premier League).

    Christian Maggio will attack him from this position and look to put him on the back foot. How McClean responds might be crucial to Ireland winning this game and could give an interesting indication of his potential at this level.

Forward: Robbie Keane

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    Robbie Keane will be very disappointed his second major international tournament has not been as joyful as his first, when he so wonderfully lit up the World Cup in 2002.

    Ten years on, where there was once precociousness is experience and know-how. But those qualities have been under-utilised, with little service coming his way in the games so far.

    When it did, he showed the kind of instincts that still make him a threat at this level, almost winning a penalty against Croatia and firing off two of only five Ireland shots against Spain.

    The Italian defence has looked resilient, if not impervious, to all manner of attacks. But Keane still offers one of his team's best chances of creating something in the final third.

    If he does get the type of service he requires, Keane has little room for error and will need to make the most of the chances that come his way, as they may again be few and far between.

Forward: Shane Long

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    In the hope of giving his team some thrust, energy and creativity in attack, Trapattoni has thus far tried Kevin Doyle and Simon Cox from the start, with almost a half each game for Jonathan Walters.

    None exactly prolific forwards, all deployed in the hope their respective brands of good ol' fashioned work ethic and Irish diligence would find a way of unlocking opposition defences.

    It has also been in admission of the fact that Ireland need their front-men to contribute elsewhere too.

    But with one game left, it is time to try something a little different, with one eye on the future of the national team, too.

    Shane Long is not yet a prolific scorer at the top level, but he is without a doubt a far more natural one than the names mentioned.

    Trapattoni has opted to leave Keane further forward in the Irish attack. But his captain is also a player who, left to his own devices, will track back to help out and involve himself in the earlier stages of an attack and still get himself involved further forward.

    In truth, he is probably better at it than Walters, Doyle and Cox. And Long is definitely better than those three in and around the penalty area.

    There is more to his game than goals, but they are definitely his focus, and he may just be the man to grab one or two more for his country before they head home.