Gareth Maher

The Republic of Ireland are currently in a fantastic position to realise their dream of qualifying for next summer’s World Cup in South Africa.

When Giovanni Trapattoni took over as manager last year, the Irish supporters hoped for a new dawn. Now that they have moved to within a point of Group 8 leaders Italy, the mood amongst the fans has become quite optimistic.

Having been let down by previous managers, a change was needed. The FAI (Football Association of Ireland) took their time in finding a replacement for Steve Staunton before eventually agreeing a deal to make Trapattoni their new manager.

The impact that the experienced Italian has had in just over a year has been hugely positive. Ireland have lost only once since he came in and that defeat came in a friendly match, but it is his record in qualifying that matters most and that is very impressive indeed – Played Seven, Won Three, Drawn Four, Lost Zero.

After securing draws away to Italy, Montenegro, and Bulgaria, the confidence within the Irish squad has reached a new high. The players now believe in themselves and that is all down to Mr. Trapattoni.

Along with his backroom staff (that includes Marco Tardelli and Liam Brady), he has worked hard to instill a system – based around a 4-4-2 formation – that puts the team’s needs ahead of any individual players. For the former Juventus manager, results are what matters most at international level and he is fast becoming a master of it.

Ireland have played in three World Cups (1990, 1994, 2002) so far and they are eager to reach a fourth. Before this qualifying campaign kicked off there was little hope given to them as they were drawn in a group with Italy, Bulgaria, Georgia, Montenegro, and Cyprus. But they are now proving that a good team spirit and work ethic can be the difference between qualifying and failing to inspire.

New players were needed in the team, but none of those that have come in under Trapattoni are star names. Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews, who play their club football for Stoke City and Blackburn Rovers respectively, have become the first-choice pairing for central midfield, but a year ago not many Irish fans would have been aware of the two players.

Even though they have some well-known players like Robbie Keane and Damien Duff, everyone sticks to the system and it has paid off thus far. Ireland might not be the most entertaining side to watch, but the dream of reaching South Africa next summer has driven them forward and everyone is starting to believe in this team.

For example, in their last outing they drew 1-1 with Bulgaria in Sofia. It was a hard fought game with Richard Dunne heading them into the lead before they conceded a soft goal. Rather than just hang on for a point though, they nullified the threat from the home team by closing down space and keeping their work-rate at a high level throughout.

The fans departed the Vasil Levski Stadium feeling proud of their team and that is something they have not felt for some time. Under Trapattoni, Ireland are a team with good options for each position. There are some improvements still to make, but for now they are progressing well in the hunt for qualification.

Next up for Ireland is a trip to Cyprus in September followed by home matches against Italy and Montenegro. If they can keep their good run going, then they will push the reigning world champions all the way for top spot in the group.

There is always the option of making the playoffs – if they are one of the best placed teams that finish as runners-up in their group – but Trapattoni wants top spot and for the first time in their history that looks achievable for Ireland, as long as they can keep their good run going.

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