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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Euro 2012 draw gives Ireland's Giovanni Trapattoni an Italy reunion

Giovanni Trapattoni wants to ensure that the Republic of Ireland maintain an interest in Euro 2012 ahead of an emotional meeting with Italy on 18 June.

Trapattoni admitted before Friday's draw he did not want to play the team he managed at the 2002 World Cup and European Championship in Portugal two years later.

Quite aside from the build-up to a game that obviously means more than most, and having to change some pre-tournament training plans, the 72-year-old feared the threat posed by a resurgent Azzurri, who are once again punching their hefty weight on the international stage after a period in the doldrums.

But now there is no avoidance. They meet in Poznan – the final game in a group that opens against Croatia before the little matter of a trip to Gdansk on 14 June for a meeting with a Spain side looking to create history by becoming the first team to win three international tournaments on the trot.

"I wanted to avoid Italy because they are strong mentally and because we know each other," said Trapattoni. "We knew we had to face strong opponents and I hope we don't do ourselves harm and that we get to June 18 in a calm way."

Meeting Italy will not be a new experience. Ireland managed two draws against them in qualification for the 2010 World Cup, deprived of a win at Croke Park by Alberto Gilardino's effort two minutes from time.

And in June this year Keith Andrews and Simon Cox scored when an experimental team recorded a surprise 2-0 win in Liège. There is also the little matter of that game in New York, when Ray Houghton scored the only goal to give Ireland one of the greatest nights in their entire history at USA 94. "I must convince my players it will be [just] another game," said Trapattoni. "They may prepare better."

Trapattoni is refusing to take anything for granted, not the importance of an opening match with Croatia, nor the Spain game, even though the odds on victory will be as great as they were that famous day in the Giants Stadium.

"We know our position in the rankings," said Trapattoni. "We know we have to play with another mentality. Spain are famous. They won the World Cup. But everything is possible."

Unlike Fabio Capello Trapattoni has already signed a two-year contract extension so, regardless of the outcome, he will be staying on.

However, beneath the kindly exterior beats the heart of a fierce competitor. And there is no way he will timidly accept failure. "I have done this job all over the world in different countries; Italy, Germany, Austria, Portugal, now with Ireland," he said. "I really love my job and it will give me huge satisfaction to take Ireland to a finals. It shows that when you are really well organised and have real self-belief you can do it, even with smaller countries.

"Everybody on the Irish team is looking forward to bringing our football and our style to the tournament. For me it is not about what I have done in the past, and I have done a lot, but about what the future will bring."

That future now brings Italy, whose coach, Cesare Prandelli, has every right to be wary. "I know that Trapattoni will try to get the best results until the end," he said.

And the Croatia coach, Slaven Bilic, believes the entire group will turn into a scrap for second behind Spain.

"Realistically, we don't only have hope, we feel a real possibility and real chances to pass the group stage," he said. "Spain are the favourites for the tournament, I think, and Italy, Ireland and Croatia have equal chances to be the second team."

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