Ireland’s new management team of Martin O’Neill and his assistant Roy Keane will get their first taste of action tonight when Latvia come to town.
A game that ordinarily would have had held little attraction has had an injection of excitement following the appointment of the “showbiz” duo of O’Neill and Keane.
With no world cup in Rio to look forward to, the newly installed pair have been tasked with delivering a place in the European Championship in 2016 and that job starts on Friday.
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While the squad’s for the game with Latvia was named by interim manager Noel King, who has since reverted to his role managing the U21’s, O’Neill will be assessing the options available to him.
The former Sunderland manager is being tipped to use the “granny” rule to his advantage as he builds a team capable of qualifying for France in 2016.
But for now the players that played in the loss to Germany and the win over Kazakhstan will get another chance to impress.
However Ciaran Clarke and Robbie Brady, won’t feature in the new regime’s opening games.
Clarke has a foot injury while Brady has not recovered fully from a hernia operation and will join Richard Dunne and Damien Delaney in missing out.
That should mean that John O’Shea and Sean St. Ledger will start in the centre of defence with Seamus Coleman and Marc Wilson on the flanks.
The battle for the goal keeping Jersey looks set to be an interesting one. David Forde produced a stunning performance in the loss to Germany however O’Neill knows Keiren Westwood well from his time at Sunderland could give the former Coventry star a chance.
With the likes of Stephen Quinn and Stephen Ward in the squad, it will be interesting to see how the rest of the midfield shapes up, although one man likely to start is Aiden McGeady.
The Spartak Moscow winger is tipped to become an important man for O’Neill and is likely to get an early opportunity to show that especially with Brady out and Anthony Pilkington struggling with a dead leg.
Up front Jon Walters will hope to revert to a more central role, alongside Robbie Keane.
The Stoke forward, on the score sheet in the recent 3-3 draw with Swansea, has in recent times being forced out on to the flanks for Ireland but given O’Neill preference for a big target man up front he could asked to perform a more familiar role.
Latvia meanwhile are managed by former Southampton striker Marian Pahars and captained by Reading defender Kaspars Gorkss.
Like Ireland the Latvian’s will also miss out on next year’s World Cup. The country were paired with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Slovakia, Lithuania, and Lichtenstein, finishing second bottom with two wins and two draws from 10 games.
Pahar’s side finished the group strongly, beating Lithuania at home, narrowly losing 1-0 away to Greece and drawing 2-2 at home to Slovakia, although given they drew 1-1 away to Liechtenstein, O’Neill will be confident of getting his rein off to winning start.
After the clash with Ireland Latvia will travel to England to take on championship side Yeovil on Monday in a friendly with the Boys in Green travelling over to Poland for their final International of 2013.