Monday 11 November 2019

O'Neill expects fight to the death as Walters puts hand up for battle


Jonathan Walters looks set to start this evening against Georgia having overcome injury Photo: Sportsfile
Jonathan Walters looks set to start this evening against Georgia having overcome injury Photo: Sportsfile

Daniel McDonnell in Tbilisi

Martin O'Neill believes that a 'fight to the death' for World Cup qualification starts tonight and the key to passing the first test is sharp ball retention in the heat of Tbilisi.

The Irish team are expecting an intense evening at the Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena with their genuine respect for the hosts and the possible impact of the warm conditions the prevailing theme in the pre-match press conference.

It was 35C when Ireland trained at the venue at 6pm local time yesterday and while the 8pm kick-off tonight (5pm Irish) should ensure it's a little cooler than that, O'Neill feels it will be a factor - especially if his side produce the same performance as in last October's meeting with the Georgians at the Aviva.

Ireland were second best for long periods of the first half before Seamus Coleman stepped up after the interval to grab an undeserved victory.

"I went back to have a look at that match," said O'Neill ahead of his team's training session. "And even though we spent the first few minutes trying to close them down and get the momentum going, we kind of relaxed and allowed them into the game.

"If that was in Dublin, you might be able to address it. But it's going to be warm and in these conditions, it's all about how you deal with the ball.

"You have to try and keep it. And there's a number of other things we can address. Georgia came into the game then and started to dictate things in a way that a side playing away from home should not do."

Jon Walters trained with the Ireland squad yesterday after declaring himself fit, news that was welcomed by O'Neill. Walters's goal in June's draw with Austria kept Ireland joint top of Group D.

O'Neill has eight players one booking away from missing Tuesday's date with co-leaders Serbia but says the focus has to be on maintaining that position rather than being distracted by thoughts of what comes next.

"We're ready to roll," he stressed. "We know it's difficult. We've got four games left and we want to try and make the most of it. We know it's going to be a fight to the death and regardless of the result, I said at the start that this (group) will take us right to the very last game and that's the way it seems to be going."

Georgia are still searching for the first win of their campaign after three draws and three losses from their six games; Ireland are unbeaten with three wins and three draws.

"We need to score first because then we will have fantastic support from our fans," said Georgia coach Vladimir Weiss.

"Our group has great potential. What we've been missing is a bit of luck, a bit of aggression and other factors that have prevented us from getting great results.

"It's never easy to play against Ireland because they are a strong and physical team but everything is possible in this game for us."

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Ben Te’o on England’s World Cup defeat, Eddie Jones and his Toulon adventure

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport