Republic of Ireland
FIFA’s Dubious World Ranking: 26
World Cup appearances: 3
Last appearance: 2002
Best performance: Quarter-finalists (1990 – P5 W0 D4 L1 – the system works)
Kazakhstan v Republic of Ireland
Friday, 5pm Astana, RTE2
No-one’s happy. Everyone’s found out they’re not as talented as some results suggested. The best ones are leaving. Being an Ireland player these days must feel like it was in the last days of S Club 7 – but without the lingering fear of having to make a living in panto.
There’s a feeling of doom and gloom around the Boys in Green as they begin their latest attempt to defend their way to a major tournament. Losing Shay Given and Damien Duff to making loads of money at club level is a blow, but the bigger concern is the whiff of widespread discontentment coming from the camp. Darron Gibson’s withdrawal from the squad sent out a message that was more than ‘I’m rate myself far higher than most people who’ve watched me over the last few years.’ It suggests a whiff of mutiny in the camp where normally the whiff is more Burberry aftershave. Giovanni Trapattoni’s reluctance to give the likes of James McLean and Seamus Coleman more of a chance may have consequences beyond mere dull football.
Kazakhstan are no great shakes, but the spanking Ireland took at the Euros makes everything feel more onerous, especially in a venue that’s closer to Beijing than Berlin. The Snow Leopards finished bottom of their group in qualifying for the Poland and Ukraine, but aren’t quite as mediocre as the other whipping boys you can get in your qualifying group. They’ll be dogged if nothing else and as Ireland have often shown, that’s often good enough to get something out of a game.
Despite the overwhelming feeling Ireland are one Leonardo Di Caprio short of being a sinking ship, the Boys in Green should win, even if it won’t be too impressive. They might ride their luck and show the creativity of a bad Borat impression, but they have the class to start off their qualifying campaign with a win.
The ‘I don’t like giving predictions’ prediction: Ireland 1-0 at 9/2
Odds of needing to book a flight to Brazil: 11/4
Trapattoni pulled a rabbit out of the hat last time, but this group is tough enough to demand a lot more luck to be pushed.