Home rule is now vital as automatic qualification remains achievable
Ireland can still qualify automatically for next summer's European Championships, Martin O'Neill has insisted, after a series of results on Friday that went in Ireland's favour.
O'Neill's side defeated Gibraltar in Faro on Friday night to move ahead of Scotland and into third place. Before tomorrow's game against Georgia in Dublin, Ireland's manager said there were three teams in with a chance of finishing second.
"Everybody's fighting," O'Neill said as the group opened up, thanks to Scotland's defeat in Georgia, with Germany defeating Poland in Frankfurt and ending their unbeaten record in the group.
"Scotland are still in it, well and truly in it. They have a better head-to-head than us, so we have to try and stay ahead. Poland will feel they still have something up their sleeve, that's their first defeat in the competition. Everybody's been beaten, everybody has lost games."
Ireland are now two points behind Poland and one ahead of Scotland. O'Neill seemed pleased with the idea that Ireland could remain in a play-off position, but later insisted that there was still a lot to play for in a group with games against Germany and Poland to come in October. When he was asked if Ireland were up for the fight, O'Neill responded: "I think you saw that on Friday night."
His senior players agreed with his positive assessment. "Fingers crossed we take care of Georgia first," John O'Shea said after Friday's game. "If we do that, then we know you're not talking about just a playoff then - you're talking about a chance of automatic qualification. That's what's in your hands, a home game against Germany, it's going to be difficult, they're obviously getting a bit of form together, then you have to go away to Poland, who we felt we should have beaten at home, we know we can get a result there. But let's beat Georgia first."
With a tougher game to come tomorrow at the Aviva, Ireland will hope Seamus Coleman recovers from a hamstring injury which kept him out of the game against Gibraltar. His replacement, Cyrus Christie, scored Ireland's opening goal, but also contributed to some alarming moments in defence, which might have been punished against a better side.
O'Neill knows that Georgia will offer a greater test and his players, too, will feel that they can't squander the advantage now.
"We need to concentrate now on the game against Georgia on Monday," said Shane Long, who scored Ireland's fourth goal against Gibraltar. "They got a great result against Scotland and their tails will be up. But we are playing with plenty of confidence as well and it is still vital that we get the three points."
Ireland were written off after the failure to beat Poland and Scotland at home, but the group looks different after Friday's results. O'Shea felt the criticism wasn't unfair. "There's nothing unfair, we need to be winning games at home, no matter who it is, if you want to be qualifying for a major tournament. You have to beat teams at home."
Ireland get another chance tomorrow night.
Sunday Indo Sport