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Ward: Euro rivals will fear us

STEPHEN WARD believes that "Republic of Ireland" is one name that the other 15 nations competing in the European Championship finals next summer will not want to get in the draw in just 15 days' time.

With a 10-match unbeaten run, and a record of just two competitive defeats under Giovanni Trapattoni, this Irish side may not be spoken of in the same glowing terms as the current Spanish or Dutch sides, but Ward is certain that Ireland will be feared by the other teams in Poland and Ukraine next summer - because this team is "made" for the finals.

The sole blot on Ireland's copybook last night was the 57th minute concession of a goal to Konstantin Vassilijev, ending a run of clean sheets since the home game with Armenia.

"I don't care who we get in the draw next month, but I do know that most teams will want to avoid us," Ward told the Herald, after he had marked his ninth cap with his second international goal, beating keeper Pavel Londak on 31 minutes after Estonia's second-choice 'keeper - their first choice had been suspended -- had blocked Stephen Hunt's header.

"We don't play the prettiest football at times but we play determined football. And I think we are made for tournament football.

"We are a solid group of players - we are hard to beat, it's very hard to score goals against us, and we can score goals. I think we will do well in the finals.

"And it's good that we didn't lose and we kept up the unbeaten record. Maybe it's a bit disappointing to concede a goal but that's only splitting hairs, we're in the Euro finals and that's all that matters," added Ward, one of Ireland's best players last night.

The former Bohs man proved that he has recovered from a shaky effort away to Russia in September to nail down the left-back slot.

"Most of the work was done last Friday, last night was about showing the fans that we can put on a professional performance when needed. It was a bit of a carnival atmosphere and it was a night for everyone to remember," he said.

"The game wasn't the best to watch but if someone had told us a few months ago that we'd win a playoff 5-1 on aggregate and qualify for the European Championship final, we'd have taken that."

Ward's progress is one of the amazing stories of this international season - a year ago the Wolves' man, despite playing regularly in the Premier League, was not deemed worthy of a place in a 27-man squad for a friendly against Norway, but now he's a key part of a mean Irish defence.

"I have not been bitter about not being in the squad, I always stayed as professional as I could and I just hoped my chance would come," he said.