Friday, September 4, 2009

Three points essential for Ireland

Ireland have an added incentive to claim all three points against Cyprus in Saturday’s crucial World Cup qualifier.

Trapattoni's Green Army travel to Cyprus knowing victory would strengthen their grip on second place in Group Eight and move them to the brink of securing a World Cup play-off spot. It also continues the possibility of catching current group 8 leaders Italy in the final games of the qualifying group.

But the whole Ireland squad will also be keen to avenge the 5-2 humiliation they suffered on their last visit to Nicosia in October 2006, which wrecked their chances of qualifying for Euro 2008 and was probably their most disappointing result in recent Irish history.

Some of the players involved have spoken this week about putting the record straight, and although Cyprus slumped to a 6-1 friendly defeat by Albania last time out, they also lost their game prior to the 2006 triumph over Ireland 6-1 to Slovakia.

Since then, Trapattoni has revitalised the Ireland squad and steered them into a realistic position to reach their first major finals since the 2002 World Cup in Japan/Korea.

The Italian boss has brought a real stability to the Ireland camp by keeping faith with the same core of players and he named the same 24-man squad as for the friendly against Australia last month, in which Ireland suffered only their second defeat in 13 games under Trapattoni.

However, Preston defender Sean St Ledger has been struggling with a knee injury so new Hull City signing Paul McShane has been added to the squad, which will also face South Africa in a friendly at Limerick's Thomond Park next Tuesday.

Hull team-mate Caleb Folan started the last qualifier - a 1-1 draw in Bulgaria - but the striker is doubtful with an ankle problem so Leon Best, Kevin Doyle and Shane Long could be battling it out to start alongside Robbie Keane up front.

Keane scored the only goal as Ireland beat Cyprus 1-0 at Croke Park back in October and they remain unbeaten in their qualifying campaign.

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