Friday 9 December 2016

Jonathan Walters warns Republic still have 'a long way to go' to reach Euro 2016

Published 08/09/2015 | 16:59

Jonathan Walters knows the Republic are not guaranteed a play-off berth just yet
Jonathan Walters knows the Republic are not guaranteed a play-off berth just yet

Jonathan Walters fired the Republic of Ireland firmly into the race for Euro 2016 qualification - but then admitted they are still "a million miles" from making it to France.

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The 31-year-old Stoke striker's 69th-minute goal finally saw off Georgia at the Aviva Stadium on Monday evening to cement Ireland in third place in Group D, four points clear of rivals Scotland with just two games each left to play.

For the Republic, the equation is simple: win just one of their remaining matches next month and they are guaranteed at least play-off place.

However, given that those remaining fixtures comprise the visit of world champions Germany to Dublin and a final-day trip to Poland, who for so long set the pace in the group, coupled with the fact that only a shock of epic proportions will deny the Scots victory in their last game away to whipping boys Gibraltar, and Walters' caution is well-founded.

He said: "We are a million miles away from qualifying yet. We have got a long way to go - two massive games next month. We'll go back to our clubs and we'll come back and approach them in the right way.

"It was obviously about getting the six points this week and that's what we did. We were hoping other results went our way and they have, but we have still got a long way to go before qualifying."

On a night when the stage was set for skipper Robbie Keane to equal former West Germany striker Gerd Muller's tally of 68 international goals, the 35-year-old found himself a spectator for the second half after manager Martin O'Neill withdrew him at the break in an effort to inject fresh energy into a lacklustre team display.

O'Neill was rewarded when midfielder Jeff Hendrick tricked his way past three Georgian defenders before crossing for Walters to score his seventh goal for his country from close range to ensure the fight for qualification will go down to the wire.

Walters said: "Jeff is a top-quality player and he's got that in the locker, breaking their lines and getting forward and supporting us. It was a great nutmeg by him and keeping it on the line, and he put it on a plate for me."

The win, coupled with Friday night's 4-0 triumph over Gibraltar and back-to-back defeats for Scotland in Georgia and at home to the Germans, have left Ireland with their fate firmly in their own hands.

However, victory for the Scots at home to Poland on October 8 will leave Ireland knowing draws against both Germany and the Poles - commendable results in themselves - would not be enough for them should Gordon Strachan's men finish with a maximum six-point haul because of the head-to-head record between the sides.

For that reason, central defender John O'Shea knows just how important Germany's visit to the Aviva Stadium could be.

O'Shea said: "Totally, and it's going to be a big night against Poland too. But we will look forward to them, a full house at the Aviva for the Germany game and hopefully a performance to match it.

"It's one of those things: we know we have more work to do and we are looking forward to it."

O'Shea and his colleagues at the back played their part in a good few days for the Republic by keeping successive clean sheets against Gibraltar and Georgia, although, in the case of the former, without having been particularly stretched.

The Sunderland captain, whose late goal in Gelsenkirchen secured a priceless 1-1 draw with Germany in October, is under no illusions as to how difficult it will be to serve up a repeat next month, but that will be the aim.

O'Shea said: "It's one of those things - we kept two clean sheets, but also we would have been disappointed if we hadn't kept two clean sheets against the teams that we played, and we know we are going to get a bigger test against Germany and Poland."

Press Association

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