A lovely place to get taught a lesson
The Portugese will teach Mick McCarty's team a long-overdue lesson in tactics, writes Mick Derrig.
If you get the sense of a people by looking at their soccer teams, the next time your abroad, hide your passport.
We don't have any players with only one name that ends in ``O''. Then you know you're really in the game. Ronaldo, Romario, Bebeto, Figo
If Mick McCarthy's lads are a window on ourselves then we - the Irish - are a defensive & dysfunctional people.
Well actually, we're not even that good at being defensive! Perhaps it's our post-colonial defensiveness at not being quite up to our natural rivals in Ingerlund - or just the fact that we're crap.
We have two players worthy of the name - both called Keane.
We don't have any players with only one name that ends in ``O''. Then you know you're really in the game. Ronaldo, Romario, Bebeto, Figo.
Ah yes, Figo.
We will soon be off to Portugal. The Portugese people love the game; because they love life and believe me they do LOVE life.
Look at how they mesmerised Ingerlund with an exquisite short passing game.
The formation that they go for buries for all time the stupid notion that formation equals tactics. They set out their stall in a 4-5-1. That is redolent of Norway in USA 94, with the ball being battered into submission and the midfield running all day, closing down space as the ball flew over them from back to front.
In the Portuguese set up, the extra man in midfield allows for tight little triangles to flow through the middle of the park. In the North European model, the ``1'' upfront has to be, as a basic job requirement , seven feet tall and five feet across.
Portugal sent out a deligtful little inside forward (remember them?) called Nuno Gomes.
The five-man midfield has two sitting in front of the centre backs and there are three assassins roaming at will in front of them between the opposition defence and midfield.
Keegan fielded a zonal 4-4-2 against this - they got two fortunate goals and they still got slaughtered.
McCarthy won't get found out in Lisbon-we already know that he isn't up to it.
Despite the scarcity of his resources he could at least - as a coach - organize his men effectively, instil some mental toughness. The litany of late goals conceded indicates that he hasn't been able to do that. McCarthy's natural place in management is in Nationwide One. It shows. It really does.
McCarthy will construct a careful game plan for Ireland in Lisbon. This game plan will be devilishly ingenious. We will give the ball away to the Portuguese and they won't give it back.
Roy Keane will lose the rag and boot someone.
It would be a crass mistake to focus on the awesome presence of Luis Figo in the Portugal midfield and think they are a one-man team, the way Maradonna's Argentina clearly was in 1986.
Again, against England, it was Rui Costa's and Sao Pintos darting creativity that undressed the Donkey and dizzied Ince as much as Figo's laid back skill on the flanks.
For once Phil Babb will be of some use to the national squad - he plays these days with Sporting Lisbon - though he cant get on the team at present.
If we get anything from the game in Lisbon, it will because we are brutal and they lack the nastiness required for the top flight in soccer. They are certainly the most gifted nation in European soccer.
If they beat us in Lisbon - which I expect - it will be because they are in love with football.
We will boot the ball at them and they will take it into their care and they wont give it back to us-we don't deserve it. They will stroke, flick, feint and, finally, pass the ball into the Irish net.
They will celebrate-not like the triumphalist Andy Muller goose stepping after putting England out in Euro 96 (a real clash of imperialisms) no; they will celebrate because they have an art of living that comes out in their soccer.