Liverpool, help Brussels, sick Bursa, generic Paris. In a few days time, we’ll know whether we can add Tallinn to the list of cities where our football side have thrown away an opportunity to join the big boys at a major tournament. The general consensus is that the Estonians also provide us with the easiest opponents we’ve had to meet at this normally heartbreak-inducing stage. Estonia lost to the Faroes sure. And their best qualifying campaign before now was for the 1938 World Cup. This oughta be easy, right?
Wrong. Anyone with this view is desperately blinkered in their view. While I may have previously defended this Ireland side for their performances in this qualifying campaign, it has to be said that it is probably the weakest Irish side we have had in the last twenty-five years. The central midfield partnership of Whelan and Andrews have managed to create a no man’s land which their opposition are more than pleased to invade in each game. Our forwards have sometimes varied from blunt to hopeless. Indeed, if it wasn’t for Robbie Keane’s rapid decline culminating in a missed penalty in Zilina and a missed sitter in Dublin against the Slovakians, we would be planning our trips to Kiev and Warsaw right now.
So Trap is right when he says: ‘Be careful the cat. No say the cat is in the sack when you no have the cat in the sack’. Or at least I think he is. Estonia are no fools. So what if they lost to the Faroes away and should have lost to them at home? They’ve managed to beat Serbia and Slovenia away from home in the last eighteen months. The time in which it took to sell this match out was unprecedented, which would suggest that their fans are going to make the most of the first great opportunity they have ever had to reach a major tournament. They’re probably similar enough to us in quality, and there can be no questioning that their players and fans will be up for it.
One must also take into account that as I fly out to Tallinn on Thursday, I’ll probably be about the tenth in line to start up front on Friday evening. We have very few decent strikers left. Keane has been off the pace for two years, despite the misguided confidence a few goals in the MLS may give him. Doyle is suspended, Long is injured and Leon Best also took himself out of the equation by getting injured last weekend. At least we are blessed that whoever partners Keane in Tallinn has an opportunity to finally break to Keane-Doyle stranglehold that has remained on the forward positions.
Although the 6,000 applications for 1,400 away tickets would suggest otherwise, there seems to be a greater sense of realism throughout the Irish supporters this time around. Deprived of a glamour tie, like the Dutch in Anfield or the French two years ago, the euphoria that can be generated by hope has been replaced by confidence, mixed with ever-growing anxiety, that is generated by playing a team without a reputation to speak of. But there is no point being fearful. It’s time to recreate the spirit of Tehran and banish the ghosts of Liverpool, Brussels, Bursa and Paris. Especially Paris.