Home fans have their first opportunity to gauge their dreams of future glory when the Republic of Ireland take on Serbia for their first international match under new manager Giovanni Trapattoni here Saturday.
The veteran Italian is Ireland's most experienced and accomplished manager ever and has assembled an equally impressive backroom team which includes Irish legend Liam Brady and Italian World Cup winner Marco Tardelli.
Despite uninspiring results against two lowly Portuguese clubs during training camp over the past week, Trapattoni declared his team could emulate Greece's shock triumph in the 2004 European Championships.
“I am a simple man and I dream. We believe, because four years ago Greecewon the European Championships and they are more or less like Ireland. We have to believe we can do that.”
He has been instilling this belief in his players by encouraging new ways of thinking about football and has given a clear signal that he wants his players to take a more cultured approach than the traditionally more direct Irish way.
The Irish have usually struggled in recent years when playing anything other than a 4-4-2 formation but Trapattoni has told his players they must be able to play other systems.
“When the ball is in the air we need to blast it from the sky with a shotgun! It's not easy, but that is the way we will have to play,” he told reporters Thursday.
While keen to point out the importance of stalwarts like captain Robbie Keane and centreback Richard Dunne, he is also keen to create a genuine sense of competition in the squad by giving inexperienced players a chance to prove their ability.
Selection for the camp in Portugal was hampered by injury, and the club and personal commitments of senior players but Trapattoni welcomed the opportunity to work with those on the fringe of the squad and was vocal in his praise for them afterwards.
“It is very important to get to know some of the younger players so I have some alternatives and different solutions to the best-known players like Dunne and Keane.
“I know I can say I can put my trust in these young players,” he said after a 3-1 victory against non-league Lagos this week.
While the results in Portugal may cause concern for fans, Trapattoni's reputation and enthusiasm is undoubtedly having a positive effect on his players.
Within 48 hours of his FA Cup Final disappointment captaining Cardiff City at the weekend, midfield play-maker Stephen Mc Phail got a run-out against Esperanca and could not contain his excitement afterwards.
“The people in charge are absolute legends and if you can't learn off people like them then you'll never learn,” said the 28-year-old former Leeds starlet, who is among a number of players hoping to resurrect their international career under Trapattoni.
Senior players missing from the Portugal trip such as Robbie Keane, John O'Shea, Richard Dunne and the emerging Aiden McGeady are all expected to take some part in the game against Serbia Saturday and the match against Colombia in London the following Wednesday.
The only major absentee is goalkeeper Shay Given who is out through injury. His loss could be Dean Kiely's gain. He told The Irish Times this week he would come out of international retirement because the lure of working with three football legends was too much to resist.
While the reaction of players to Trapattoni has been hugely positive not all are willing to get carried away.
Earlier this month, he travelled to Manchester to try to coax Steve Finnan, Andy O'Brien and the talented-but-temperamental youngster Stephen Ireland out of international retirement. So far, only the Liverpool fullback has agreed to return for the new season.
Ireland, Finnan, Given and long-term absentee Steven Reid are the only players missing from the starters for Ireland in recent years, otherwise Trapattoni can pick from a full squad.
Serbia coach Miroslav Djukic can choose from some of Europe's top teams and despite the disappointment of not qualifying for Euro 2008, the form guide suggest the Serbs should be favourites.
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