Wednesday 25 April 2018

Time to attack: Martin O'Neill wants Ireland to invoke the spirit of Lille in World Cup crunch

Martin O'Neill speaking to the press and (inset) with Robbie Brady after beating Italy in Lille
Martin O'Neill speaking to the press and (inset) with Robbie Brady after beating Italy in Lille

Martin O’Neill has urged his Ireland players to seize the moment and attack Austria in Dublin this evening.

Although he refused to accept the theory that Austria will be out of the World Cup qualifying group if they lose in the Aviva Stadium, O'Neill knows that a victory for his side will leave counterpart Marcel Koller with a seven-point deficit before the resumption of the campaign in September.

Austria, who lost the home fixture 1-0 earlier in the qualifiers, have arrived in some turmoil and are without Stoke City midfielder Marko Arnautovic, who is suspended, and defender Andreas Ulmer, who has rejected international duties to get married.

But O'Neill, himself without key players Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy and Shane Long, has repeated that the alleged difficulties in the Austrian camp will not affect the visitors' performance tonight. He is also adamant that, even if they lose, Austria are not out of the group.

The main concern for the Ireland manager, after the mixed results and performances in the friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay, was that his whole squad would come through the final two training sessions. After ample resting time, the players returned to the Abbottstown training pitches yesterday morning for "a few boxes and a bit of shooting".

The focus throughout this two-week period has been today's encounter and O'Neill has repeated his assertion that only a positive start to the game can ensure a positive result, which could have a significant impact on who will automatically qualify for next summer's finals in Russia. The manager believes the template for the game tonight is Ireland's all-important win over Italy in Lille a year ago, which kept their Euro 2016 dream alive.

"That night the result was of great significance, but we knew at the beginning that we couldn't rely on anything else and had to win," he said. "When you have a mindset like that it helps focus you and stops you thinking negatively. This is a big match for both teams. There are five games left and I don't think you get these points on board without being positive. So let's not fall into our shell.

Austria would have been one of the favourites to go through in the group and they might be a little disappointed with some of the points they have left on the field, and disappointed to lose to us at home. They will do everything to put that right, so I expect a really tough game.

"We have to start strongly in the game at home and have to take the game to Austria. They have the capability to cause us all sorts of problems and we have to be on the front foot if we can, but also be aware of their dangerous players.

"It is usually our plan to get started on the front foot but it doesn't always work that way. It's up to us to start as strong as we possibly can. I can't prevent what people feel about the games and how the group has gone, but I am in control of the team and how they feel about it.

"A couple of seasons ago here, almost to the day, when the result against Scotland didn't go our way, I don't think any of the players lost faith, which was really great. We knew it would be a tough task.

"We still have a million miles to go, regardless of what people feel. This is a big, big game — a win for Austria puts them right back in it, and a win for us gives us some sort of breathing space."

O'Neill gave nothing away yesterday regarding his team selection but he has three key decisions to make regarding his goalkeeper and centre-back partner for Shane Duffy, and the inclusion of either Wes Hoolahan or Glenn Whelan in midfield.

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