Category: Archive

Irish gearing up for World Cup qualifiers

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jay Mwamba

Estonia drew first blood in Ireland’s 2002 World Cup qualifying group last Wednesday, knocking off little Andorra 1-0 in Tallinn to go top of Group 2.

The former Soviet republic had their way with Andorra, the smallest footballing nation in Europe, but needed a 64th-minute penalty to subdue the visitors. Forward Martin Reim converted a penalty after midfielder Andres Oper was felled in the box by Juli Sanchez.

Andorra return to action against fellow minnows Cyprus on Sept. 2, while Ireland get their campaign under way with a tricky away fixture against European Championship semifinalists Holland in Amsterdam on the same day.

Estonia face Portugal, who also reached the semis in Euro 2000, in their second qualifier, on Sept. 3.

Apprehensive Mick

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The sterling performances by both the Dutch and Portugal in Euro 2000 have left Irish boss Mick McCarthy feeling some pressure.

"It’s a difficult group," McCarthy admitted last week. "We knew that prior to the European championships but based on the performance of those two teams, Holland and Portugal, in Euro 2000, it looks even trickier still."

Even more daunting is the fact that Ireland will be play its first two matches away against the two group favorites.

After their Sept. 2 trip to Amsterdam, the Republic meets Luis Figo’s Portugal in Lisbon on Oct. 7. The group winner qualifies automatically, while the second place team will go into a playoff.

McCarthy, nonetheless, remains optimistic and suggests that the Dutch and the Portuguese may be feeling the effects of their long summer campaigns.

He points out that Ireland defeated Croatia 2-0 in a Euro 2000 qualifier in 1998, not long after the Croatians had finished third in the World Cup finals.

"I wonder how much they are looking forward to a team from the Republic of Ireland coming over, hungry for success," he said.

The Irish boss rates his squad, likely to be built around the two Keanes — midfielder Roy of Manchester United and new $19.5 million Inter Milan signing Robbie — as good as any in the world when at full strength.

"If everybody is fit, I think we’re a good team. I’m very confident in our ability. That’s backed up by performances and results in qualifying games," he said.

Provisional squad

McCarthy last week announced a 30-man provisional squad to prepare for the Holland game next month. The party will be reduced to 22 this week.

The squad comprises goalkeepers Alan Kelly (Blackburn Rovers), Shay Given (Newcastle United), and Dean Kiely (Charlton Athletic).

Defenders: Stephen Carr (Tottenham Hotspur), Gary Kelly (Leeds United), Ian Harte (Leeds United), Steve Staunton (Liverpool), Gary Breen (Coventry City), Richard Dunne (Everton), Phil Babb (Sporting Lisbon), Terry Phelan (Fulham), Paul Butler (Sunderland), and Curtis Fleming (Middlesbrough).

Midfielders: Roy Keane (Manchester United), Mark Kinsella (Charlton Athletic), Steve Finnan (Fulham), Jason McAteer (Blackburn Rovers), Mark Kennedy (Manchester City), Kevin Kilbane (Sunderland), Damien Duff (Blackburn Rovers), Lee Carsley (Middlesbrough), Graham Kavanagh (Stoke City), Gareth Farrelly (Bolton Wanderers), and Rory Delap (Derby County).

Strikers: Niall Quinn (Sunderland), Keith O’Neill (Middlesbrough), David Connolly (Excelsior), Robbie Keane (Inter), Dominic Foley (Watford), and Matt Holland (Ipswich Town).

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