Euro 2004 Qualifier Preview: Republic Of Ireland V Georgia
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Damien Duff's knee injury could rule him out (Allsport)
06/10/2003. The Republic of Ireland take on Georgia at Lansdowne Road in the knowledge that a more convincing performance will be needed than the one they produced against Albania in Dublin last Saturday. Brian Kerr's team defeated the technically proficient Albanians 2-1 with a fortuitous own-goal by Adrian Aliaj two minutes into stoppage time. The result gave Kerr a winning home competitive debut, and a similar scoreline had given the Irish a win in Tbilisi on 29th March. So having begun their Group 10 programme with a couple of defeats under Mick McCarthy, the Republic now know that victories in their last three qualifiers will secure them a place in the finals in Portugal.
The Irish defeat of Albania, and Russia's draw with the Swiss at the weekend helped the Irish cause no end. They currently sit joint second on the same number of points (seven) as Russia, and two behind Switzerland, with all three countries having played five games. Switzerland entertain Albania on Wednesday, and host Ireland on 11th October in a game that could decide the winners of the group ?assuming the Irish can beat Russia in Dublin on 6th September.
Those permutations will be academic, however, if Georgia are not beaten on Wednesday. And Irish midfielder Matt Holland (poised to leave Ipswich for Portsmouth, though Spurs have made a late intervention) acknowledges that the Republic will have to raise their game to beat the Georgians.
"We obviously need to play better than we did against Albania, but three points are the most important thing. Georgia are a good side with talented footballers and they will make it difficult for us, there is no doubt about that.
"We must approach the game in the right manner, give the same amount of effort as we did on Saturday, hopefully play better and get three points.
"It is going to be a tough game. People expect us to roll over both Albania and Georgia, but that is just not the case. These are teams with good players and it is not that easy, so the most important thing is getting three points. There are no easy games at international level now."
Ireland's chances will be considerably enhanced if star winger Damien Duff is passed fit to play after limping out of the victory over Albania with a knee injury. Duff was unable to train on Monday, but is reportedly making progress and still has a chance of facing Georgia.
Kerr likes to give Duff a free role behind the two front men, with much of Ireland's creative play being channelled through the Blackburn Rovers player. So if Duff is ruled out by injury, Kerr will need to make changes. Millwall's Steven Reid is a possible replacement, with Lee Carsley or Gary Doherty also options. None of the three, however (especially the latter two) performs a similar role to that filled by Duff.
Although Georgia are bottom of the group, Ireland's assistant manager Chris Hughton says his players have been warned how difficult it will be to follow up the win over Albania with another against Georgia.
"First and foremost," said Hughton, "the thing you have to drive home to the players is the difficulty of the game. When we played the two away games in Georgia and Albania, my perception was that Georgia were the better of the two teams.
"They have a lot of quality in the side and if we look at their players who play worldwide, then they are playing at a higher level than a lot of the Albanian players.
"If we were not to do our job right, then they could gain in confidence and be an efficient outfit. If I look at all the qualifying groups then this is the tightest group."
The Georgia squad includes defender Kakhi Kaladze who played in the Champions League final for winners AC Milan, plus Rangers striker Shota Arveladze and Dundee defender Zurab Khizanishvili, who has become a target for Rangers.
However, the squad arrived in Dublin on Monday afternoon without four key players, leaving them just 18 from whom manager Ivo Suzak can select. Captain Giorgi Nemsadze of Dundee, Freiburg pair Levan Tskitishvili and Levan Kobiashvili, and Dinamo Tbilisi midfielder David Kvirkvelia are all ruled out by injury and didn't travel with the squad.
But Suzak believes pride and skill will get them over this Dublin hurdle. "We want to win," he said, "but I don't want to put any more pressure on the players that they go out with nothing but a win on their mind.
"The players will be mentally prepared to go out and match Ireland's fanaticism and if they do that, I will be happy, no matter what the result. We have some very good players and I think that we are better than our position in the group. We have four points, and I think we should have six."
Suzak confirmed that Arveladze will definitely start in attack, but he does not intend to name the rest of his team until one hour before kick off.
POSSIBLE STARTING XI:
Republic of Ireland: Given, Carr, Breen, Cunningham, O'Shea, Holland, Kinsella, Kilbane, Duff or Reid, Connolly, Keane.
My heart = INTER...No Matter Win or Lose...
Zanetti : I still remember my first day at Inter. I arrived with a plastic bag with my boots inside and I crossed the crowd of fans who were asking who I was. That's where it all started.....