One of the most crucial games in Ireland’s qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup takes place on Saturday, but you’d hardly know it. On paper, a trip to Nicosia for a clash with Cyprus should be more than winnable for Ireland. Cyprus are ranked 73rd in the FIFA World Rankings, and they’ve only ever won 22 of their 176 competitive games. However, any Ireland fan knows that this is no simple trip to a Mediterranean outpost. One of those 22 wins was a humiliating 5-2 drubbing of Ireland in 2007, while Cyprus also held Ireland to a 1-1 draw at Croke Park later that year, a game the minnows should have won.
Those games, unfortunately, took place under the not-so-watchful eye of Stan so with Trap now in charge, surely Saturday’s game is an opportunity for revenge for those games and a chance to affirm Ireland as a rejuvenated football power. Add to this a need for three points as Ireland continue their march towards second- or (perhaps) first-place in Group 8 and the importance of Saturday’s match is clear. Someone should point that out to our national media because, when it comes to the Ireland National Football Team, there’s only been one story told this week.
The Cobh native is a curious case, to say the least. He’s a man with dubious taste in cars, odd tattoos and a phenomenal natural talent for the beautiful game. Robbed of the Premier League’s Young Player of the Year for the 2008-09 season, Ireland should be the talisman of Trapattoni’s midfield. He’s a man who defied logic and outshone the likes of Robinho at the Middle Eastlands last season. Indeed, Ireland was named as the club’s player of the year. What could he do for his national side? One wonders.
Yet Ireland doesn’t play for Ireland, and hasn’t done so since Grannygate. A dubious exit, to say the least, but the underlying point is that this incident has robbed Irish fans of one of our finest talents in the position where we are most lacking, the centre of midfield. On the pitch, we feel his loss – his presence would have been telling in the clashes with Bulgaria and Italy – but the lack of Stephen Ireland could hurt Ireland in an altogether different fashion come Saturday as it seems that he's proving to be a distraction.
Already, two players have spoken openly about his absence. At least. Journalists are persuing the Stephen Ireland angle, even though the player himself slammed shut the door on a possible return in an interview over the weekend. He’s moved on, so why can’t we? We miss Stephen Ireland, sure, but we have to let him go. Trapattoni should draw a line under the entire affair, rule out bringing back Ireland for the remainder of this campaign at least, if not his entire tenure as manager, and most importantly tell his players not to comment on a man who's not a member of their team and does not want to be. It's time that Trap and his players focus on Ireland and not Stephen.
Edit: It looks like Trap is an Almost Daily Sports Blog reader!!!