BARI, March 31 – Italian coaching legends Marcello Lippi and Giovanni Trappatoni will be on opposite benches as Italy host Ireland in a crucial World Cup qualifier here on Wednesday.
Italy lead group eight by two points from Ireland following Saturday’s matches in which the world champions won 2-0 in Montenegro and a late own goal from Kevin Kilbane cost the Irish a home win against Bulgaria.
But if anyone can lead the plucky Irish to victory in Italy then it is the greatest club coach in the history of the Italian game.
Trappatoni has won everything there is to win in club football during a glorious 35-year coaching career in which he has sat on the bench at giants such as AC Milan, Inter MIlan, Juventus, Benfica and Bayern Munich.
He won titles in four different countries, including seven in Italy, and all three European competitions, including the now-defunct Cup Winners’ Cup.
Lippi’s achievements probably would outshine almost any other coach, but not Trappatoni, as he has won only five Italian titles and a single European trophy, the Champions League, all with Juventus.
However, what he does have that Trapp hasn’t is international success having guided Italy to the World Cup three years ago.
Trappatoni’s four year stint in charge of the national team from 2000-04 was largely unsuccessful.
Even so Lippi has nothing but admiration for his opposite number.
"At 70 years old he still coaches with the enthusiasm of a boy," he said. "That’s why he’s called to all corners of the globe to teach football."
Lippi actually followed in Trappatoni’s footsteps, taking over from him at the Juventus helm in 1994 after 10 years of coaching lesser lights in Italy.
"I have a lot of respect for him because he is the reference for our generation, for determination, for shrewdness, dedication," said Lippi who is more than aware of how important this match is to Italy’s qualification hopes.
"It’s clear that they are our only challengers for first place in the group.
"Beating them would mean opening up a five-point lead over them and ekeing out an important gap, even if not a decisive one."
Trappatoni says his team need to get a result following the disappointing Dublin draw against Bulgaria.
Ireland in second place have a healthy seven-point lead over third-placed Bulgaria after earning 11 points from their first five matches.
And to keep in a World Cup qualification position — the nine group winners and eight best runners-up will go to South Africa — a point at least in Bari is vital.
"It’s important for us to win but it’s equally as important not to lose," said Trapp. "With our mentality and the spirit in our team we can do well in Italy."
It is that spirit and mentality that has not only always been a part of the Irish but also of Trappatoni teams, and that is something that worries Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro.
The 36-year-old is one of the few players in the current Italy squad who played under Trappatoni in the unsusccessful 2002 World Cup and 2004 European Championship bids.
But even so Cannavaro knows what Trapp can bring to a team. "It feels strange to be seeing him again. I played under him for four years in the national team and I know the adrenaline and enthusiasm he transmits to his teams," said the Real Madrid centre-back.