By Mark Jones
DUBLIN — The Republic of Ireland’s dream of qualifying for the Euro 2000 soccer finals may turn into a nightmare today (Wednesday) in Turkey. After Saturday’s deflating 1-1 draw with the Turks at Lansdowne Road, the Irish now face a massive task in the second leg of the playoff in Bursa.
If the failure to come away from Lansdowne Road with a win was bad enough for manager Mick McCarthy and his players, the fact that Turkey scored a precious away goal has made them firm favorites to claim a precious place in next year’s finals.
In the event of a tie, away goals count double, so even if the Irish were to draw 0-0 today, then the Turks would be declared winners due to their goal in Dublin. A 1-1 result after 90 minutes would send the game into extra-time, while a 2-2 draw would see Ireland through on the basis of that away-goals rule.
Analyzing a few of the permutations may be all very well, but essentially the Irish need to win and in the intimidating atmosphere of Bursa. That may well be beyond the abilities of McCarthy’s team.
Already Robbie Keane, who scored in the first game, has been ruled out after he received a yellow card for dissent and goalkeeper Alan Kelly is also a non-starter due to injury. Keane will be replaced in attack by David Connolly, while the inexperienced Dean Kiely comes in for Kelly.
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However, there is more optimism about Niall Quinn, who was forced out of the first leg with a neck injury. Quinn looks set to take his place alongside Connolly and Mark Kinsella is also available after being suspended for last Saturday’s match.
Even without Robbie Keane, whose superbly taken goal 10 minutes from the end appeared to have put the Irish on the right track last Saturday, Connolly and Quinn are a potent enough attacking duo, and with Kevin Kilbane providing the necessary width on the left wing, McCarthy can be hopeful that the Turkish defense can be breached.
However, the manager’s own defense will cause him the most worry before today’s do-or-die contest. Having conceded several crucial late goals in the qualifying group, Ireland lost their concentration once again in the immediate aftermath of Keane’s goal on Saturday.
Lee Carsley handled the ball in the area and Tayfur drove the penalty into the net. Even though Turkey had been under considerable pressure, they proved themselves to be highly resourceful and skillful side. The usually influential Roy Keane was closed out of the game and Tony Cascarino, who had replaced the injured Quinn, was given little room to move.
Stephen Carr was also exposed at the back and Rory Delap struggled, but McCarthy will have been heartened by the performances of Gary Breen and Kenny Cunningham in the middle of the back four.
“We’ve certainly made it very difficult for ourselves,” the manager admitted, “but we’ll be going out to win the game. Has there ever been an Ireland team that gave up without a struggle? Certainly not in my time as player or manager.”
McCarthy will be hoping for a goal against the odds and for an improved performance by Roy Keane. If the Irish win today, it will arguably be a greater achievement than any during the Jack Charlton era.
Probable Ireland team: Kiely; Carr, Cunningham, Breen, Irwin; Kinsella, Keane, Carsley, Kilbane; Quinn, Connolly.