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International Friendly Previews: What We’ll Learn about James McClean, Stuart Pearce and Michael O’Neill

by Rob Dore | February 28, 2012

Republic of Ireland v Czech Republic
Wednesday 7.45pm, Sky Sports 1

What we’ll learn: How much better James McClean is than Aiden McGeady, as long as he gets the game time. Drafting McClean in as a replacement after injuries is about as experimental as Giovanni Trapattoni gets. Some may grumble about the Italian being stuck in his ways but his are winning ways. As enjoyable as it would be for him to go all out in this game, progressing to the latter stages of Euro 2012 is the target and this is the last chance he’ll get to work with his players before the end of the domestic season. After that point Trap will be picking the players he intends on bringing to Poland and Ukraine. If you’re not in this squad and your second name isn’t Dunne, it’s not looking good.

Worthwhile Rating: 4/5
There’s a distinct lack of withdrawals from this game as the players have learned the manager is not a man to be messed around. Playing against fellow Euro 2012 participants the Czech Republic lends added relevance to this friendly.

Wales v Costa Rica
Wednesday 7.45pm, Sky Sports 2

What we’ll learn: How respected and loved Gary Speed was and still is. This is going to be an emotionally-charged affair and, with no immediate tournament to prepare for, we may not learn too much about Chris Coleman’s intentions for the Welsh national team. Craig Bellamy is a welcome return to their less-than-stellar forward line but he’s unlikely to be back for the World Cup 2014 qualifiers. A competitive and entertaining match will be an appropriate homage to the life and career of Gary Speed.

Worthwhile Rating:5
Because, you know, we’d be massively insensitive dicks if we said anything else.

Northern Ireland v Norway
Wednesday 7.45pm, Sky Sports 3

What we’ll learn: Mostly why neither team is going to Euro 2012. That’s a little unfair. Norway came within goal difference of making the play-offs. Still, with no real reason to impress and with the remainder of the domestic season still to play, this game is more important for what happens off the pitch than on it. Michael O’Neill has already shaken things up a little with his squad selection and he’ll look to set the tone with the players for his reign as the latest Northern Ireland manager.

Worthwhile Rating: 2
Quite a few of his players could do with the game time and it will be useful for O’Neill to meet the squad and establish his authority.

England v Holland
Wednesday 8pm, ITV1

What we’ll learn: How much the British media loves/hates the English football team depending on the result. If Stuart Pearce is still in charge come June then this game could prove to be far more significant but the number of withdrawals is a strong indicator of what the players think about that. However, if England win impressively, it’ll make things interesting with the Harry Redknapp situation. The Euro 2012 squad will be made up from most of these players involved against Holland but the man most likely to be in charge, Harry, plays a distinctly different style of football to Pearce and will want to put his own stamp on the set-up so…eh…at least we’ll get to see their snazzy new kits. That definitely won’t be changing before the summer.

Worthwhile Rating: 1 or 3 or 5
The perceived significance of this game will be largely dictated by the media’s over-reaction to it whilst the actual significance will be dictated by coming developments on the managerial front.

Slovenia v Scotland
Wednesday 7.45pm

What we’ll learn: Both sides came close to almost nearly qualifying for the play-offs for Euro 2012 but they didn’t. You could argue that their preparations for World Cup 2014 qualification starts here but you’ll find yourself arguing alone as your friends and colleagues quickly lose interest. It’s also not a very strong argument. The Scotland players do get a trip to Slovenia where they can view the oldest known flute in the world, which Wikipedia tells us resides there. No Hugh Heffner won’t be flashing his gentleman parts, we mean the musical instrument. Check it on Wikipedia. Other than the cultural enrichment that there’s no real reason for this game and the result will quickly disappear amongst the more innocuous events in Scottish football history.

Worthwhile Rating: -1
Not even extreme national pride can fully rationalise this midweek flight across Europe, especially not with domestic action coming up this weekend.

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