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Qualification hopes fade for Ireland

Everything appeared to be going according to the script for the Republic of Ireland on Tuesday as they fell behind, battled back, made life hard for themselves, and just about got over the line, only to be stung late on.

It wasn't that they didn't deserve to beat Austria at the Aviva Stadium, it was just typical of Giovanni Trapattoni's tactics that they blew it. And as long as he keeps the potential of this team to play a more attractive, attacking style bottled up, they will always struggle.

Two goals from Jon Walters - one from the penalty spot, the other headed in from a corner kick - put Ireland ahead after Martin Harnik had given the visitors the lead on 11 minutes. Victory looked to be secure until David Alaba struck in injury time to share the points.

The result felt like a defeat for Ireland as any hopes of reaching next year's World Cup require a team winning their home games and picking up a few points on the road. Now sitting on eight points from five games, qualification hinges on both Austria and Sweden slipping up.

Pressure will inevitably be heaped on Trapattoni now as The Lucky General looked more like The Clueless Clown when he opted to take Shane Long off and leave Wes Hoolahan on the bench at a time in the game when they needed quality players to hold the ball up. That didn't happen and Austria got their late leveller.

Just like the scoreless draw away to Sweden last week, there was a lot for the boys in green to be proud of. The intelligence of Long, the grafting of Conor Sammon and Walters, the short passing of James McCarthy, and the composure of Seamus Coleman, all stood out on a night that almost went to plan.

However, some harsh truths need to be faced up to. Trapattoni needs to be held accountable for his decisions, as well as his unprofessional conduct away from the pitch, while certain players have to raise their level of performance, eg. James McClean.

Incredibly frustrating, McClean is like Wyle E. Coyote; always taking the same route of attack and never figuring out why it keeps breaking down. Here's a hint, James: mix it up, as even an Austrian defender can see your predictable moves before you even make them.

When the Sunderland winger does lift his head up before crossing the ball or cutting inside on a darting run, he does wreak havoc. But time and again, he reverts to his old habits, like a stubborn schoolboy, and decides that he has done his job when unleashing one of those hit-and-hope type crosses.

There isn't a lot that McClean needs to tweak in order to become a better player, but he needs to learn quickly. Perhaps he should review the DVD of this match and watch how his team-mate Long performed. More often than not, Long makes the right choice and his reading of the game allows him to get into dangerous positions.

A clear example was when the West Brom striker earned a penalty on 24 minutes. Chasing a long ball from Glenn Whelan, he looked up to see that no support was near him and opted to drag the ball back, inviting the tackle from Emanuel Pogatetz and winning the spot kick that Walters converted.

Long is a class act, it's just a pity that he plays in a team that doesn't provide him with the type of service that he craves. Despite that, he has swallowed his pride, just like a lot of players in this Ireland set-up, to do what he can, when he can, in order to stay part of Trapattoni's plans.

If the Italian's plans come to fruitation, then Ireland will qualify for a second successive major tournament under his watch. That may be asking a lot after this result, especially with the way he refuses to integrate quality players like Hoolahan and Darron Gibson, who remains in a self-imposed exile.

Reaching the World Cup - or at the very least a play-off spot - was a realistic target for Ireland considering their rivals in Group C. Okay, top spot is reserved for Germany, but the runners-up place should have been up for grabs as Sweden, Austria, Faroe Islands and Kazakhstan are all limited teams.

Change could quickly become the buzz word as the media, supporters, and, indeed, the FAI, begin to review where this home draw leaves Ireland. And the discussion of whether a future without Trapattoni in charge is one that needs to take place.

Next up is the visit of the Faroe Islands in June, for which both McCarthy and Long will be suspended, but that is a roadblock they should be able to swerve. Whether they remain on the road to Rio, though, depends on other teams crashing off course.


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