Saturday 18 August 2018

Martin O'Neill driven by fear in pursuit of World Cup dream

Martin O'Neill celebrates his side's victory
Martin O'Neill celebrates his side's victory

Martin O'Neill joked that he would fear any team standing between the Republic of Ireland and their World Cup dream - before they go out and beat them.

The Republic booked their place in next month's play-offs by inflicting a first competitive home defeat in four years on Euro 2016 semi-finalists Wales to clinch second place in Group D and end Welsh hopes of making it to Russia.

Ireland will be unseeded and could end up facing Italy or Portugal over two legs, although O'Neill had a message for his side's potential opponents.

Asked if he feared any team, he replied: "I don't think everybody would want to play us.

"Do I fear teams in there? Absolutely, every one of them, every single one of them. But I have always feared teams, it's the best way to be. And then we go out and beat them.

"I think I speak for a lot of the nations in the play-offs - I don't think anyone would want to play Italy, I don't think anyone would want to be playing Portugal - although Portugal might beat Switzerland - and there are about six others I would rather not have.

"But I am delighted to be in it."

Ireland secured their place courtesy of a spirited display at the Cardiff City Stadium in a game which was settled by James McClean's 57th-minute strike, his fourth goal of the campaign and all of them away from home.

O'Neill said: "The performance of the players was fantastic, absolutely fantastic. We had to withstand a lot of pressure, which you would expect. Wales put us under that pressure, as befits a side that had done so brilliantly at the Euros.

"But we had to come here tonight to win in Cardiff and we have come through and we have done exactly that, so it was a great performance by the players.

"We've got a lot of work to do. It was a really great night, to come and win in Wales was fantastic. And the players will not give up, that's the point. We might lack a few things, but courage is not one of them."

David Meyler, captaining the side in the absence of injured duo Seamus Coleman and Jonathan Walters, picked up a second booking of the campaign and will miss the first leg of the play-off, but O'Neill and his players left South Wales wreathed in smiles.

By contrast, Wales boss Chris Coleman was left devastated as the nation's 60-year wait for a World Cup finals adventure was extended.

He said: "I look at it and think if we can't qualify, then we've come up short. I feel I've come up short, we haven't quite got there.

"We're all in the same boat - it hasn't been enough. It's been a hell of an effort, but I'm a great believer in being honest. I'm disappointed in myself, I'm gutted, devastated.

"But it's not my first disappointment and probably won't be my last."

Coleman's contract is due to expire next summer, although he was giving little away about his future intentions in the immediate aftermath of a heart-breaking defeat.

He said: "I can't give an answer right now. It's not just a matter of signing a new contract.

"The FAW [Football Association of Wales] have been great with me. I asked them to leave me alone as my contract has been running down and all the questions were getting asked.

"I wanted to concentrate on getting results. There'll be a conversation in due course. My contract is until the summer.

"But right now, I'll go back to my family and take a bit of time. When the dust settles, we'll see where we go."

Press Association

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