Tardelli hails 'fantastic year' for Irish football

Marco Tardelli will reflect upon a "fantastic year" as the Republic of Ireland bring their 2012 campaign to a close against Greece on Wednesday evening.

Despite a poor showing at the Euro 2012 finals in Poland and Ukraine, where they failed to collect a single point, and a 6-1 World Cup qualifier drubbing by Germany in Dublin last month, which left manager Giovanni Trapattoni fighting for his job, assistant boss Tardelli insists the last 12 months has had its successes.

Asked if it had been a tough year, the Italian said: "No, it's been fantastic. For me, it's been a fantastic year.

"We went to play in the European Championships, that was very important for us - it had been nearly 25 years since the Irish team had qualified.

"For me, it was a very good year. We discovered many players, many young players who are here with us, and when you have big change, then it's important to have patience.

"We know that if the younger players go on the pitch, it's possible to play very well one time, then twice very badly.

"But that's football, we know football."

The bulk of the squad met up at their Portmarnock base yesterday for the first time since an eventful 10 days in October which saw Trapattoni's critics round on him after the debacle against Germany.

Ireland turned in a dreadful performance at the Aviva Stadium as they were over-powered by Joachim Low's men, and in the aftermath, it was suggested that the 73-year-old Italian would be out of a job whatever happened in the Faroe Islands four days later.

In the event, the Republic won 4-1 in Torshavn and 24 hours later, the Football Association of Ireland released a statement confirming that Trapattoni would remain in his post.

Throughout all the drama and speculation, the man himself remained adamant that he was going nowhere, and immediately turned his attention to this week's friendly.

With skipper Robbie Keane having been left out to spare him the gruelling round-trip from Los Angeles - Sunderland's John O'Shea will take over the armband - and Aiden McGeady and Keith Fahey having withdrawn through injury and illness respectively, Trapattoni is likely to use the opportunity to further examine the depth of his squad.

The game may not have the intensity of the two Ireland played last month, but Tardelli believes whichever players are asked to take the field, they will be given a stern test with Celtic's Georgios Samaras, one of the heroes of last Wednesday night's 2-1 Champions League victory over the mighty Barcelona, in the Greek squad.

He said: "It's a very tough test. We know that Greece is a very good team, one that presses very hard.

"They have good players, like Samaras. We know Samaras, he played against Barcelona and he played well.

"It's a good test for us and a good test for the young players. For them, it's good to play in training but it's important to play also in tough matches."

Trapattoni's plans for the first game at the Aviva Stadium since the disaster against the Germans have been disrupted by injuries to striker Jonathan Walters and defender Paul McShane, although Tardelli revealed both have had scans which suggest they should be available for selection.

The manager has already indicated that Wigan midfielder James McCarthy may be given a chance, while in-form West Brom frontman Shane Long, who has found himself marginalised in recent games, could also figure, as could young wingers James McClean and Robbie Brady.

Of Long, Tardelli said: "Maybe it's possible he starts the first half, maybe.

"We know he is playing very well because we were there on Saturday and he played well. But also, the other players are playing very well.

"We will wait until Wednesday, but we can change some players as we want to understand these new players some more.

"We think they are good, but they must show us that they can stay with us."

The FAI later revealed that Walters had been ruled out of the Greece game with a knee injury and would return to Stoke for treatment.

No replacement has been called up.

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