Wednesday 21 February 2018

O'Neill backs his men to find another late surge and earn qualification

O’Neill will today unveil his squad for the concluding fixtures with Moldova and Wales on October 6 and 9 respectively. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
O’Neill will today unveil his squad for the concluding fixtures with Moldova and Wales on October 6 and 9 respectively. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

John Fallon

Back in July, Martin O'Neill surprised some journalists he questioned wouldn't settle for a World Cup play-off and yesterday he reiterated his stance.

Ireland were joint-top of Group D at that juncture but the measly return of one point from the recent pair of qualifiers against Georgia and Serbia leaves them with no margin for error for a play-off to be salvaged.

O'Neill will today unveil his squad for the concluding fixtures with Moldova and Wales on October 6 and 9 respectively.

Whether it's Sean Maguire, Scott Hogan, Cillian Sheridan or Anthony Stokes he drafts in, something fresh is required to address the alarming lack of fire-power.

Two goals in their last four win-less qualifiers should concern O'Neill and there will be further worries if Jon Walters doesn't recover from his latest knee injury.

There are also doubts surrounding the fitness of Harry Arter and Wes Hoolahan, while Robbie Brady and James McClean are suspended for the home game against Moldova.

Toppling

Should Ireland, as expected, account for the pool's basement side in Dublin, they still have the task of toppling a Welsh team unbeaten in the campaign, armed with Gareth Bale, on their home patch in Cardiff.

Ireland will also be reliant on results in other groups to avoid missing out on a play-off in November as the worst runners-up across the nine groups.

"I will genuinely say if I was told before the competition started that we'd have to win our last two games to make a play-off, I'd have taken it," noted O'Neill about the predicament they face.

"We've found the odd hiccup in the last couple of weeks but we can rectify that.

"You want to qualify for competitions, that's my job. We got off to a fine start. In the previous competition for the Euros we got off to a reasonable start then stuttered during the middle of it.

"But we came very, very strong in the last part of the competition and that got us through. Beating the world champions Germany was massive and we have to rise to the occasion again this time.

"We have two games and we know that if we win them you would be desperately unlucky not to be in the play-offs."

O'Neill is doing his best to ensure Ireland's players prioritise the first part of the mission. Despite Moldova having nothing to play for and conceding 20 goals in their eight games so far, he's cautioned them against complacency.

"My thinking is pretty clear - the Moldova game is everything to us," he insisted. "It will be a nervy 90 minutes, we've seen this before in games we're hoping to win."

Irish Independent

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