Republic of Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni is one of football's realists, but if he has retained his passion for the game at the age of 73, it is also because he knows that no match is ever won or lost in advance.
Beaten 3-1 by Croatia in their Group C opener, his charges face a daunting test against European champions Spain in Gdansk on Thursday, yet 'Trap' is confident they "won't commit any simple mistakes again". Although he laments a certain tactical inflexibility within his squad, he told UEFA.com that the ability to bounce back from setbacks "is one of our skills".
UEFA.com: The last time Ireland conceded three goals in a competitive fixture was against Russia nearly two years ago. With that in mind, how will Sunday's result affect the squad?
Giovanni Trapattoni: Well, without doubt the team suffered a shock after conceding that first goal, but I must say that they reacted well and we even managed to equalise. But this surprise led us to commit another mistake and it condemned us a bit; there was some noticeable disappointment on our part, also among the players. We then analysed the reason. Today I saw they had recovered well from it. I asked them to forget about that match and to focus on what we have developed over the last 14 matches, which has been to not lose against big teams. Today in training I saw my team recovering well psychologically.
UEFA.com: What did you make of Italy's decision to change their system to counteract Spain's threat?
Trapattoni: Well, Italy has its domestic league and the players in the national team know different systems of play very well. They don't have any problems with different systems like Ireland have. Three of our players have been playing in the Premier League, others in the Championship, and many others don't play [much]. So changing the system in our team is a lot more complicated, whereas Italy have decided [to change] on the basis of their familiarity of playing different systems at club level.
UEFA.com: England defeated Spain in a recent friendly. How much did you learn from that victory, and how could Ireland adopt a similar strategy to get a positive result?
Trapattoni: There are friendlies that you can't really analyse seriously; we have to analyse the Spanish team [as it is] now, so how they did in their match against Italy as well as against England. For us, [friendlies] are lower-profile matches in which coaches usually tend to try out different variations within the team and system. So there is also a lack of any real tension in such friendlies and in a psychological sense they are inferior to matches played at competitions like the EURO. We know the players, and it will be up to the performance of the players to decide the result of the match.
UEFA.com: One of the interesting features of your reign has been the ability of the team to bounce back from their two competitive defeats, by France and Russia. How hopeful are you of a good performance on Thursday?
Trapattoni: We have that characteristic without doubt; it's one of our qualities. I also said this to my team yesterday and this morning, that we need to be confident. In football there are defeats, and I brought up the example of Bayern against Chelsea, in which Bayern dominated the match and Chelsea then [equalised] with a corner. We have young players in our team, but also experienced players, so I asked them to have confidence in our qualities and to think of why and how we made it here. I'm confident that the team will recover well and quickly from the defeat and won't commit any simple mistakes again.
UEFA.com: With that in mind, are you reluctant to make any changes to your system?
Trapattoni: Spain and Italy play with more possession. They can pass more without their opponents taking the ball. Spain are [like] Barcelona in the league. In England, we have players [who] play only in the [reserves], not in the first team. We have no habits. That is very difficult. We can change, and you need to change when you're in this situation, but for now we're not technical enough to do so. In 20, 30 years, I have changed many systems in every team. In Germany, Austria, Portugal, Italy – including at Juventus and Inter – I changed. I'm sure, at the moment, we couldn't. We haven't got the players for this, because many players – all the players – play one [style]. It's not the system; it's the players who [implement] a system.
UEFA.com: Upsets frequently happen in football, and you only have to think of Chelsea FC's victory in the UEFA Champions League final against FC Bayern München. How confident are you that Ireland can surprise Spain?
Trapattoni: Football is not a boxing match, because a boxing match is about points, win or lose. Football is about goals. [You can get a] goal from one corner, against 17 corners [for the other team]. Seventeen corners, and their possession was [greater]. Bayern had the corners and the possession – and yes, Chelsea won. That is football.
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