By Jay Mwamba
Two months after the bittersweet experience of Japan/Korea ’02, Irish coach Mick McCarthy has kept faith with the bulk of his World Cup squad as he begins the task of qualifying the Republic for the 2004 European Championship in Portugal.
McCarthy last Friday announced a 25-man squad for next Wednesday’s Helsinki friendly with Finland that will mark the start of Ireland’s preparations for its opening Euro ’04 Group 10 qualifier against Russia in Moscow on Sept. 7. Also in Ireland’s qualifying group are Albania, Georgia, and Switzerland.
With the unrepentant Roy Keane still in international exile and several vacancies created by the recent retirement of veterans Steve Staunton, Niall Quinn and stand-by goalie Alan Kelly, McCarthy has handed recalls to several players who missed the World Cup. They include Tottenham Hotspur defender Stephen Carr, who missed the trip to Asia because of a knee injury, Scottish club Hibernian goalkeeper Nick Colgan, and Southampton midfielder Rory Delap.
Leeds United forward Stephen McPhail and Millwall striker Richard Sadlier have also been given an opportunity to add to their lone appearances for the national side to date.
The only notable absentee among the active players from the squad that reached the second round of Japan/Korea ’02 before bowing out 3-2 to Spain on penalties is injured Wimbledon striker David Connolly.
Follow us on social media
Keep up to date with the latest news with The Irish Echo
On Roy Keane, who has been effectively banished from the team since being sent back from the Republic’s World Cup training camp in the Far East on the eve of the finals last May, McCarthy said: “The player has apparently stated he will not play for his country again until there is a change of management. There is no point in asking Roy to join the squad in such circumstances.”
“I am still very proud to be manager of the Republic of Ireland and very much looking forward to the next two years and the European Championship qualifying campaign and those matches against Russia, Georgia, Switzerland and Albania.”
The complete Irish squad for the Finland friendly comprises goalkeepers Shay Given (Newcastle United), Dean Kiely (Charlton Athletic) and Nick Colgan (Hibernian); defenders Ian Harte (Leeds United), Richard Dunne (Manchester City), Gary Breen (West Ham United), Andy O’Brien (Newcastle United), Gary Kelly (Leeds United), Ken Cunningham (Birmingham City), Steve Finnan (Fulham) and Stephen Carr (Tottenham Hotspur); midfielders Jason McAteer (Sunderland), Matt Holland (Ipswich Town), Kevin Kilbane (Sunderland), Stephen Reid (Millwall), Colin Healy (Glasgow Celtic), Mark Kinsella (Charlton Athletic), Lee Carsley (Everton) and Rory Delap (Southampton), and forwards Robbie Keane (Leeds United), Clinton Morrison (Birmingham City), Damien Duff (Blackburn Rovers), Stephen McPhail (Leeds United), Richard Sadlier (Millwall), Gary Doherty (Tottenham Hotspur).
Russia, rebuilding under new coach Valeri Gazz’v after a disastrous World Cup, will also be in action next Wednesday. They host Sweden in Moscow.
Gazz’v has dispensed with veteran midfielders Alexander Mostovoi and Valery Karpin, as well as defender Viktor Onopko, as he looks to youth to get Russia to the Euro ’04 finals ahead of Ireland and the rest of the field in Group 10.
His 59-strong provisional squad released last week featured only three foreign-based players, Alexey Smertin (FC Girondins de Bordeaux), Dmitri Khokhlov (Real Sociedad) and Vladimir But (SC Freiburg). Fifteen other players came from Gazz’v’s CSKA Moscow club he coaches in the Russian league.
The Ireland-Finland tussle is one of several friendlies scheduled for next Wednesday as national teams around Europe attempt to shake off some post-World Cup rust.
Spain, Ireland’s Round of 16 conquerors, will be in Budapest for a game with Hungary, while Germany, losing finalists in Japan after pipping McCarthy’s men for first place in Group E, return to action against Bulgaria in Sofia.
Dethroned champions France have an easy tune-up against Tunisia in Tunis, Scotland host Denmark in Glasgow and old Irish rivals Holland are away to Norway in Oslo.