Wednesday 21 February 2018

Coleman wary of Irish threat but Serbia delight with 'equal' group

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with FIFA president Sepp Blatter during a meeting in St. Petersburg
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with FIFA president Sepp Blatter during a meeting in St. Petersburg
O'Neill: Good draw
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Wales manager Chris Coleman is riding a wave of positivity at the moment, but he believes that World Cup opponents Ireland are in a different place because they landed the toughest Euro 2016 qualifying group.

Coleman, whose contract is up at the end of the Euros race similar to Martin O'Neill, is therefore not entirely sure that he will be in charge for the next campaign. But with Wales well on their way to the finals in France next summer, the ball will firmly be in his court.

He is enjoying the profile that has come with a meteoric rise up the rankings to a position of top seed.

And, speaking in St Petersburg on Saturday, he revealed that he looked to Ireland and specifically Robbie Keane for inspiration when he started his journey with this group of players.

It's unclear if Ireland's record goalscorer will be around for the Russian race, but Coleman respects what he has achieved in this sphere.

"When I took this job with Wales and I was speaking to our players, I mentioned Robbie Keane and said 'Look how many caps he has, look how many times he's turned out for Ireland.' We haven't had a player with 100 caps yet; we've got one or two well on the way now but if you look at Robbie Keane, he's a great example of how to do it, how to approach being an international football player.

"You've got one or two others with great experience. Ireland are always a tough game for anyone and you've had success in the last 15-20 years, you've been to European Championships, you've been to World Cups. We haven't so we'll be going into these games and your boys will be a little more savvy to it than we will. We'll just need to cope with that."

Coleman, whose late father was Irish, has watched all of Ireland's Euro 2016 qualifiers and that's why he has sympathy with O'Neill in his current position.

"It's a hard group, isn't it? Scotland, Poland, Germany. It doesn't come harder than that and it's difficult sometimes to get momentum," he explained.

"If your next game is against Germany or against Scotland away, all these things are difficult and I think Ireland's was probably the toughest group but they're still in with a shout - they still have a chance. Martin knew it was a tough one before you'd even kicked a ball but they're still in with a shout."

Looking further down the line, he thinks that the rankings in the World Cup group will be forgotten once the football kicks off with a genuine sense that every country will fancy their chances.

"When these games come around, you forget where you are," stresses Coleman, who has happy memories of lining out in Dublin as a player in a 1993 friendly in Tolka Park. "It's a good group for all of us; I think once it starts nobody will be thinking about where anybody is seeded.

"We now have to deal with the increasing amount of positivity that there's been about us.

"It's a different type of pressure but it's a pressure that we've wanted and we've earned and I've been saying to Welsh public 'don't play it down, expect us to do good things' and then we have to live up to those expectations. That's how you get success."

Coleman anticipates an improvement from Serbia. "Their young players will come through, there's no doubt about that," he continued, "They can be a tough team and we found that out two years ago when they beat us heavily (6-1). We turned a corner after that. Austria are a good team, a quality side and like I said with the Moldovans and Georgians, there's no easy games. It's a tough group but an interesting one."

The Austrian and Serbian camps couldn't disguise their contentment either. Austrian coach Marcel Koller said: "This is a very balanced group but I am satisfied with the draw. Moldova, Ireland and Wales are opponents we know. But Serbia also has a strong team and very good players. In our group, all the teams are very dangerous. Against Wales and Ireland, we must be physically strong because this is required against the English style of play."

His comments were extremely reserved compared to the expression of joy from Nebojsa Ivkovic, the Secretary General of the Serbian FA.

"It seems to me that we've never had a more favorable draw," he enthused, "From the time of Yugoslavia, through the union of Serbia and Montenegro and ending with Serbia, we did not get more positive news from a draw. However, it is only positive news about the names of the opponents in the qualifiers. We must look for improvement in sporting and organizational terms in order to achieve the target."

Coach Radovan Curcic added: "We have avoided the situation that in the group we have one of the teams from the circle that are always absolute favourites. Group D is an equal group that gives us a right to believe that we can fulfill the expectations."

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