Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ireland close to full strength for crucial Euro qualifiers

Irish boss Giovanni Trapattoni says winger Aiden McGeady is “100 per cent” and ready to play in the Euro 2012 qualifiers against Slovakia and Russia. The Spartak midfielder played three minutes of the Moscow derby on Sunday after missing much of the summer with an ankle injury sustained on June 10th, but met up with the Ireland squad at the first opportunity this morning and trained in Malahide.

Captain Robbie Keane is travelling from the other side of the world where he now plies his trade with LA Galaxy and will join the squad tomorrow.

The manager today spoke publicly for the first time since the striker’s move from Tottenham to Major League Soccer and appeared satisfied the decision will not affect the Tallaght man’s international future or form.

“He went with enthusiasm, he told me he was happy to go but he wanted to be with the Irish players too and he will come,” said the Italian. “Before people said he wasn’t playing enough, but I said senior players have played a lot of football and can keep their conditioning. Now I’m sure he can play despite the long flights.”

Burnley winger Keith Treacy and Sunderland defender John O’Shea will also arrive tomorrow. O’Shea featured for the first time for his new club at the weekend and played 95 minutes in the 0-0 draw with Swansea after recovering from injury.

The Irish Management team remain confident goalkeeper Shay Given will be fit after he suffered a back strain while playing for Aston Villa on Saturday. He will also join up with the squad late.

The only players to sit out training today were defenders Seán St Ledger and Darren O’Dea, and striker Shane Long, who has scored against Manchester United and Chelsea this season after leaving Reading for West Brom.

With each carrying minor knocks, their absences today were merely precautionary and Trapattoni insisted: “It was better we let them rest, the will be fine though, we are sure.”

The manager is happy the Long's form has provided him with a selection headache ahead of a big week, with Kevin Doyle, Keane and Simon Cox also vying for a place on the pitch.

"It's important to have these options. In the 90 minutes, we can start and then change. It's very important to choose every option."The Slovakia and Russia games will have a major say in the outcome of the group, with the three sides involved locked together at the top of the table on 13 points. Ireland lost at home to the Russians and drew in Slovakia in October, and there has been little to choose between the teams throughout the campaign to date.

But while Trapattoni is fully aware of the magnitude of the double-header, he is refusing even to contemplate what lies ahead in Moscow next week until the first encounter has been negotiated.

He said: "We must prepare for these two games with more attention - I say more because it is always important to improve. Every game shows us or teaches us that it is possible to improve again.

"For example, for the last game against Croatia, we were missing two or three important players. But the players who came in played well, and I am confident about them. I saw how it's possible to improve not only the system, but the attitude, mentality and how it's possible to achieve the result when we are missing one or two important players.

"Now against Slovakia and against Russia, we need to start with the winning mentality because I think we can do that. But we have to think about Russia only after three days."

Dick Advocaat's side suffered a setback yesterday when goalkeeper Igor Akinfeyev was ruled out of both of their qualifiers with a knee injury sustained in the same game in which McGeady made his return.

Vyacheslav Malafeev, the Zenit St Petersburg goalkeeper capped 18 times, is likely to take his place, though Advocaat has added Dynamo Moscow’s Anton Shunin (one cap) to the squad for the home games against Macedonia, on Friday, and Ireland.