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Saturday 25 February 2017

Advocaat fuels qualifier venue conspiracy theory

Cathal Dervan, In zilina

Dick Advocaat is quite happy that Giovanni Trapattoni's European Championship ambitions will be put to the test on the side of a mountain in Andorra tonight -- and his Russian bosses may well have had something to do with it.

The Dutch-born coach didn't confirm as much at his pre-match press conference in Zilina yesterday, but everything he said on the subject merely backed up Trap's conspiracy theory.

The FAI were so convinced that Andorra would cash in on tonight's fixture and play it in Barcelona that Irish fans were encouraged to book trips to the Catalan capital. Thousands did.

Many of them will be forced to watch events unfold from Andorra on television screens in Barca bars tonight after a U-turn by UEFA which Trapattoni referred to as 'malicious' last month.

Advocaat sees nothing malicious, however, about the decision to force Ireland to play in the 850-capacity Estadi Communal in Andorra tonight, just like Russia and Slovakia before them.

"The rules have to be the same for all teams," said Advocaat with a clear hint that Russia wanted a level playing field as far as the bumpy surface in Andorra is concerned.

"We tried to play Andorra in Barcelona as well and UEFA refused us permission. It would be a very big advantage for Ireland to play there tonight. We all have to accept the way the games are laid out, and the rules.

"We play tonight away to Slovakia and then at home to Andorra.

"Ireland have Andorra away then Armenia at home which may be an advantage, but we accept that."

Russia kick off 75 minutes ahead of Ireland tonight, facing a team who beat them in Moscow last season, but followed their scoreless draw in Dublin by crumbling to a 4-0 home defeat to Armenia.

"If my players don't understand what is at stake tonight and realise what we have to do here in Zilina, then they have a problem," said Advocaat who confirmed this week that he will quit if his team miss out on Euro 2012.

"We still have qualification in our own hands, but Slovakia have already shown us in their win in Moscow that we cannot relax against them.

"It is important for us to get a good result tonight. We still need points to qualify, even if Slovakia have to win the game. In this group, everything is still open.

"But we still have the momentum as group leaders. The Russian players know the next two games are like cup finals for us, this is our chance for revenge against a team who have to win.

"All my squad are playing at the highest level in the European club competitions. They know what we have to do."

Slovakia may have won in Russia, but recent form -- and acute problems in front of goal without the injured Robert Vittek and the suspended Stanislav Sestak -- haven't inspired much confidence in these parts outside their own camp.

The MKS Stadium is sold out, but the pessimism of the home fans is not shared by their captain Marek Hamsik or their manager Vladimir Weiss.

"We can score goals, that is all that has been missing from our game of late," said Napoli playmaker Hamsik.

"We will take heart from what we did in Moscow. We had to defend hard that night and take our chance when it came and it will be the same in Zilina. Russia know we can beat them."

Opinion

Coach Weiss is of a similar opinion: "We are in a better position psychologically going into this game than the Russian team," said Weiss, who will also be without Marek Cech tonight.

"Everybody in Russia expects their team to qualify and that puts all the pressure on their players.

"I know we will score in this game. I also know from watching them that Russia's last four goals have come from deflections and they couldn't score against Ireland in Moscow.

"If we play as we did when we won in Russia and defend well, then we can win this one."

The Ireland fans watching in Barcelona and elsewhere will keep their fingers crossed that the Slovakia boss is right -- and he knows it.

Weiss admitted: "People are all the same. The Slovakian people want us to win for Slovakia and the Irish people want us to win for them. We will try."

Slovakia (probable) -- Mucha; Pekarik, Skrtel, Durica, Hubocan; Kucka, Karhan, Stoch, Hamsik; Jendrisek, Holosko.

Russia (probable): Malafeev; Anyukov, V. Berezutsky, Ignashevich, Zhirkov; Denisov, Ziryanov, Semshov; Dzagoev, Arshavin,

Pavyluchenko.

Irish Independent

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