Irish International Soccer: Dunne's Departure No Big Loss
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The news that Richard Dunne is considering his international future, just weeks before Ireland embark on a voyage towards Brazil 2014, will come as a shock to the legions of green-clad supporters who did their country proud at Euro 2012.
The prospect of Giovanni Trapattoni's charges lining out without the imposing center half in their ranks, will be, well, different to say the least. And the big man's absence, having been a fixture at the heart of Ireland's defence since 2000, will surely have some fans despairing of their country's chances of reaching the Samba World Cup.
The performance of Trap's top-rated defender in Moscow last year is still regarded as one of the greatest by any Irish player. The Aston Villa center back almost single-handedly kept Russia at bay for ninety minutes as wave after red wave almost sunk Irish hopes of reaching Euro 2012.
Indeed, if there was an identifiable, pivotal moment along the road to Poland, it was surely that at the final whistle in Moscow, as Russia's players were the picture of dejection while their counterparts punched the air after gaining a point from a goalless draw. Dunne was lavished with rich praise across the length and breath of Ireland, and rightly so.
But nobody should be too downtrodden if Richard Dunne rides off into the international sunset.
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The statistics will show that the Boys in Green had an unbelievably good run of results on the road to Poland, but they belie the fact that it was largely due to Trapattoni's emphatic focus on defense —with large numbers of players behind the ball.
Helping to bolster the record were a series of games against middle of the road opposition in group play, combined with one or two encounters against disinterested teams at friendly level.
When Ireland were matched against quality opposition over the last two years, they were badly exposed for long periods. Russia bossed the proceedings in Dublin in the opening Euro 2012 qualifier between the nations, and few experts, many among them Irish, still can't explain how Guus Hiddink's team failed to find the net in the return leg.
Dunne was an imposing figure who scored two memorable headed goals in the qualifying campaign for South Africa 2010, and he was part of the squad which made it to Japan/South Korea in 2002. But along the way, the big lad's lack of technical ability was always masked by an abundance of physical power.
There was the sense that no one, not even the most ardent fan watching on TV, would want to pit his wits against the monster who is Richard Dunne.
And there is likely no target man in European football who would relish facing the big Irishman in an aerial battle—Dunne emerges from these situations almost always the winner.
But aside from this aspect of his game, the 32 year old has little else to recommend him. Contrast the Dubliner's game to that of Gerard Pique.
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When the latter is threatened by a long aerial ball, he will take it on his chest, hit a touch pass to a teammate, move for the return and usually find a midfielder with his next touch, thereby turning defense into offense with a minimum of effort. It's as if, as soon as Pique receives the ball in defense, he instantaneously becomes an attacker.
Ditto Sergio Ramos, Thomas Vermealen and even John Terry. All have honed his game to match the world's best in recent seasons.
Dunne could never be accused of being such a player—his game was to treat such situations by sticking his head on any ball above knee high and send it right back where it came from, which was usually to the gleeful feet of the opposition.
In international football, particularly that of the current day, such a tactic lies somewhere between extreme waste and suicide.
Richard was schooled in the old British style of football—any threat to one's goal should be met with all the physical resistance possible, repelling the ball away from the danger zone as far as possible.
And in the pubs and clubs of Dublin, few would ever question the bravery of the Aston Villa colossus.
But the game has moved on to a more sophisticated place, as Spain, Barcelona and even Manchester City have shown us in recent times.
Richard Dunne was a great servant to his country and his contribution to the cause, should never be diminished. But do not despair for his parting, if in fact the big man does decide to hang up his international boots.
Irish football is in need of radical change, change that will hopefully see its next generation, if not emulate the game of the Spanish, Croats and Italians, or at least try to.
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