Category: Archive

World Cup Preview Irish gear up for Portugal, Estonia tests

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jay Mwamba

Luis Figo, the world’s most expensive player, will lead Portugal against

Ireland in Saturday’s World Cup 2002 European zone Group 2 qualifier in Lisbon.

The match will be the first of two vital World Cup fixtures in four days for both countries, during a busy spell of qualifying action in Europe.

Midfielder Figo, a $56 million dollar signing by Real Madrid from fellow Spanish giant Barcelona last summer, is the man to watch in the talented Portuguese squad that reached the semifinals of Euro 2000


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Other notables include the powerful Lazio center-half Fernando Couto, hard

running midfielder Rui Costa of Fiorentina, and Phil Babb’s Sporting Lisbon teammate, forward Joao Pinto.

Figo, a finesse player of the highest order, is still likely to be given a run for his money by the Irish midfield, which assumes a totally different complexion whenever the battling Roy Keane is in the park.

In fact, the outcome of this clash in the middle of the turf between two of the world’s best midfielders could have a strong bearing on the final outcome.

Like his Irish opposite, Mick McCarthy, Portuguese coach Antonio Oliveira is

not without his injury concerns. Seasoned linkman Paulo Sousa and Costinha have both been ruled out by injury, as has defender Fernando Nelson.

The Republic, meanwhile, lost goalkeeper Shay Given and midfielder Lee Carsley, to injury last weekend, while Blackburn Rovers goalie Alan Kelly is coming off the injury list at his club.

From Lisbon, the Republic will return home to face Estonia in Dublin next Wednesday (Oct. 11). Portugal, meanwhile, will collide with the group’s other big gun, Holland, in Rotterdam on the same day.

The Dutch, who struggled to a 2-2 tie with Ireland in Amsterdam last month, have midfielder Edgar Davids and winger Boudewijn Zenden back for this weekend’s jaunt to Cyprus and the Portugal game next week.

Portugal (3 points) lead Group 2 ahead of Cyprus and Estonia on goal difference. Ireland and Holland have a point each.

Belfast test

A spate of injuries has decimated Sammy McIlroy’s Northern Ireland squad ahead of the Group 3 qualifiers against Denmark and Iceland, on Saturday and Wednesday, respectively.

The North will miss winger Keith Gillespie with a knee injury, Dundee

United defender Danny Griffin, and Watford’s Peter Kennedy, who has problems with his Achilles tendon.

McIlroy has called up Manchester City’s Zambian-born midfielder Jeff Whitley, Northern Ireland’s Under-21 captain, as insurance.

The team also includes a pair of old hands in Leicester’s Gerry Taggart and Steve Lomas of West Ham. Northern Ireland host Denmark at Windsor Park, then travel away to Iceland.

Wembley showdown

Germany return to Wembley this Saturday for their first World Cup appearance there since the 1966 final, in the highlight match of the weekend’s qualifiers.

England triumphed 4-2 then, but were winless against the Germans in competitive matches for three decades until posting a 1-0 victory in a Euro 2000 group match last summer.

However, stand-in coach Rudi Voeller appears to have breathed new life in the German squad in recent games, which adds intrigue to this latest encounter with their old rivals.

"This is not just a game about three points. This is a classic – a highlight for all participants to be there for the last game in this legendary stadium," Voeller said last week.

He’ll be looking to Christian Ziege, and AC Milan striker Oliver Bierhoff to lead his side to victory in the Group 9 showdown.

For the English, the electrifying Michael Owen Ziege’s Liverpool clubmate, should be the go-to-guy in the absence of the retired Allan Shearer.

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