Sunday 24 September 2017

We can still do it, vows O'Neill - Irish boss refuses to give up on World Cup after defeat to Serbia

 

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill reacts at the final whistle. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill reacts at the final whistle. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Martin O'Neill says Ireland's World Cup hopes are still alive despite suffering defeat in their must-win game with Serbia last night.

His side have now dropped to third spot in Group D with Serbia within touching distance of the finals after Aleksander Kolarov's 55th-minute strike was enough to claim all three points.

Serbia played the final 22 minutes with ten men when defender Nemanja Maksimovic was sent off for a professional foul but Ireland were not able to break them down.

Wales' win in Moldova means they move second in Group D and Ireland will have to beat both of those sides next month to take the runners-up spot. James McClean and Robbie Brady will miss the Moldova game through suspension.

But O'Neill feels the dream is still achievable after being buoyed by a performance that was several notches above the tepid showing in Tbilisi.

"We're not beaten, far from it," said O'Neill. "We have the last two games, which we must win.

Serbia’s Aleksandar Kolarov celebrates after scoring the winning goal last night to put his team on the brink of the World Cup. Photo: STEPHEN MCCARTHY/SPORTSFILE
Serbia’s Aleksandar Kolarov celebrates after scoring the winning goal last night to put his team on the brink of the World Cup. Photo: STEPHEN MCCARTHY/SPORTSFILE

"If we can beat Moldova, it sets it up for the final match in Cardiff. Everybody is obviously down and it's the first time we've been beaten here for a long time.

"But it's still in our hands, that's the most important thing, we can still make it. After a performance like that I'm very confident we can win both games."

However, that return will only be enough for a play-off if results in other groups go their way as the lowest points scoring second-placed team is eliminated.

O'Neill did acknowledge that Ireland's decision-making was poor when they chased the game in the dying stages with composure lacking as they fired shots from distance instead of taking an extra touch.

Wes Hoolahan's presence was missed at that point - he was withdrawn to make way for Murphy although O'Neill said that the 35-year-old was still struggling with a groin problem.

"One of the distinguishing features about top-class sides is to pick a pass under pressure, even in the last seven or eight minutes," he said. "I know we were going for it but you have to play with your head."

Ireland have failed to win a competitive game since losing captain Seamus Coleman to a broken leg in March and O'Neill said he felt particularly sorry for the Donegal man who has been around the camp to offer support.

"I'm very disappointed for Seamus," he continued.

"The players were delighted to see him come over. If we could make it to the World Cup, he might come back around Christmas time We love him to death.

"If there's anything that can keep you going, it would be that - for Coleman to make the World Cup."

Irish Independent

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