Having narrowly avoided an embarrassing defeat in their opening World Cup qualifier, the Republic of Ireland face much more accomplished opposition when they host Germany at the Aviva Stadium on Friday (7.45pm BST).
Late goals from Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle helped Ireland overturn what would have been a comical defeat away to Kazakhstan in early September. They secured a vital three points in a tough group that also features Austria and Sweden.
It was the nature of Ireland’s performance that was most concerning, however, with Kazakhstan comfortably in control for much of the second half. Ireland were incapable of finding a breakthrough until a questionable penalty and some quick thinking from Doyle spared their blushes.
After the match, unused substitute James McClean used the words “embarrassing” and “joke” to describe the performance. It can be certain that stronger words were used in the bars of the Dublin that night.
Coach Giovanni Trapattoni’s obstinate refusal to modify his trusted 4-4-2 formation has long frustrated Irish supporters. But it looks like an injury crisis, in conjunction with concerns over the influence Germany’s attacking midfielder Mezut Ozil could wield if left unchecked, will finally see Trapattoni switch to a 4-3-3 formation for Friday’s match.
Ireland’s injury list is extensive. Centre-backs Sean St Ledger and Richard Dunne are both out, meaning that John O’Shea will probably be asked to move into the centre of defence, with Stephen Kelly taking his place at right-back. In addition, Glenn Whelan, McClean and Doyle will all miss out.
But it is the presence of Ozil that has been central to the tactical rethink, as Trapattoni’s assistant Marco Tardelli revealed earlier this week. “Against Germany, we play 4-3-3 as they have a big player behind the strikers: Ozil,” he told reporters. “Maybe we need a midfielder who can control and keep him in check.”
Kevin Fahey will probably be the one tasked with man-marking Ozil, his experience likely to see him get the nod over David Meyler. He will be flanked in midfield by James McCarthy and Keith Andrews, the latter of whom will be given some license to get forward in support of the lone central striker Robbie Keane, who could otherwise become isolated.
Ireland’s opponents on Friday rarely have problems supporting their own lone central striker, with a phalanx of excellent attacking midfielders and wide forwards available to Germany coach Joachim Low to provide support for Miroslav Klose in his 4-2-3-1 formation.
Ozil has started all of Germany’s last eight competitive fixtures and despite strong competition from young Bayern Munich star Toni Kross and Borussia Dortmund’s Mario Goetze, is reasonably assured of starting in the central attacking midfielder role.
Thomas Muller and Marco Reus will be the favourites for the wide forward roles, but Lucas Podolski, Andre Schurrle and Goetze are also in contention.
It is further back that Low has some problems. A hip injury has removed central defender Mats Hummels from contention, while full-back Philip Lahm is suspended for Friday’s encounter. Per Mertesacker and Jerome Boateng are likely to be their replacements in a makeshift back-line that will also include the inexperienced left-back Marcel Schmelzer, who will be making only his third competitive start for the national team.
There are also issues to be resolved in midfield, into which the Bayern Munich midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger will step having missed Germany’s first two qualifiers through injury. He will resume a central midfield pairing with Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira that needs refashioning to get the best out of both players.
When the pair came to prominence at the 2010 World Cup there was a clear division of duties, with Khedira holding and Schweinsteiger given license to dictate the play. Since then, however, Khedira has developed a more attacking side to his game and without proper communication with his midfield partner these forward runs can leave the team exposed on the counter-attack.
Khedira and Schweinsteiger will have to work together in unison to prevent such gaps opening up on Friday.
Ireland v Germany Betting Tips Verdict
Germany won both of their opening World Cup qualifiers last month and have not lost in a qualification match for a major tournament since the Czech Republic beat them 3-0 in October 2007, some five years ago.
They won all of their matches in qualifying for Euro 2012 and there is little to suggest that they are unworthy of their billing as clear favourites to defeat Ireland on Friday. So our two advised tips are:
- Optimists can back Ireland at 8/1 (BetVictor, William Hill) and the draw is best at 19/5 (Pinnacle, William Hill). However we suggest backing Germany to win at biggest odds of 4/9 with SkyBet, Blue Square, Coral or Stan James.
- All of Germany’s previous 11 major tournament qualifying matches have ended with three or more goals. With a strong attack and a potentially shaky defence in this fixture, a similar haul looks likely. Therefore, back over 2.5 total goals in the game @ 5/6 with Pinnacle. If that price disappears it is only a shade shorter at 4/5 with Bet365.