Busy schedule leaves O'Neill with no time to study Latvian opponents
MARTIN O'Neill could hardly have picked a better team to play on his debut as an international manager.
O'Neill's first selection goes into action at the Aviva Stadium tonight against a Latvia side who should be competitive, but beatable.
The Latvians, like Ireland, failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup and under recently-appointed manager Marian Pahars, they are in a rebuilding phase for the Euro 2016 qualifiers.
Pahars (37), who played with Southampton from 1999-2005, served a brief term as Latvia's U-21 manager before replacing Aleksandrs Starkovs in July. By then, Latvia were going nowhere in qualifying Group G, and they eventually finished second-last with eight points.
But Pahars downplayed the state of Latvian football.
"Our players do not play at the high level of the Irish players. Most of our players play in the domestic league, which is not as strong as the Premiership, and possibly not as strong as the Championship.
"We expect a tough match. I know all about the changes in Irish football, and maybe we have come at a difficult time – I mean for us," he said.
"The Irish players will want to impress the new manager, so that makes this a tougher match for us. But our players want to show they can compete at this level.
"I don't remember very well playing against Roy Keane, but he was a top player with a top team. That was a long time ago.
"Now we both have changed roles. I keep in touch with friends at Southampton and I am very happy to see the club doing so well right now," he said.
Meanwhile, this busy week has not permitted O'Neill much time to study the opposition, but he has received a series of DVDs on Latvia players from the Irish statistician Brian McCarthy.
"It's good to have a bit of knowledge about them, but unfortunately with the time restrictions I haven't been able to pass on all the information that's buzzing around my mind.
"We did a little bit about them last night, and we'll do some more before the game," said O'Neill.
The Republic has played Latvia four times, all of them in competitive fixtures. The countries met in the 1994 World Cup qualifying, and the 1996 qualifying series.
Ireland won all four games, including the last fixture on October 11, 1995 when John Aldridge scored twice in a 2-1 win at Lansdowne Road.