In form Ireland take on Croatia at the Aviva Stadium, kick off 7.45pm, looking to maintain the run of results that saw them claim the Carling Cup, beat Italy and the most important of the lot, claim three valuable away points against Macedonia in a May and June to remember for the boys in green.
Croatia may be ranked ninth in the world however they have only managed to beat Ireland once in five meetings and have never beaten Ireland on their own patch – with big games against Slovakia and Russia looming, Giovanni Trapattoni will be keen to keep confidence high in the camp.
As always the build up to any friendly has been marred with withdrawals and question marks over the timing and in keeping with tradition there has been a raft of players who have been declared unfit to play.
Kevin Doyle became the latest name on the list when he returned to his club for assessment ahead of the new season, the Wolves striker joining Stoke pair Jon Walters and Marc Wilson, James McCarthy, Seamus Coleman, Keith Fahey and Damien Delaney on the sidelines.
Therefore it was no surprise that a familiar looking side appeared when the starting line out was announced, the mainstays of the defence, Shay Given, Richard Dunne and Sean St Ledger flagged by the Stephen’s of Kelly and Ward.
Ward in particular will be keen to stake a claim for the Euro 2012 double header and after impressing in the end of season games another good performance could see edge out veteran Kevin Kilbane.
The absence of McCarthy is an opportunity lost for Trap, having missed the end of season games the clash with the Croats would have an ideal chance to assess our options in the middle however it’s not to be and instead Darron Gibson and Glenn Whelan will marshal the middle of the park.
For Gibson this game can’t come soon enough; a summer of speculation that culminated in the 23 year old captaining a second string side in a friendly against Spartans has yet to yield a move and with his national manager urging him to move, something it seems Sir Alex Ferguson agrees with, Gibson needs a strong game to show what he is capable off to potential employers.
Damian Duff and Stephen Hunt will man the flanks while up front the Premierships newest striker Shane Long will partner another man who has been told by the Italian to find another club, Robbie Keane.
The 72 year old will no doubt makes changes and with the likes of Simon Cox, who like Ward grabbed his end of season chance with both hands and Ciaran Clarke not to mention Chelsea youngster Conor Clifford all on the bench many fans will be looking at the changes more than the result.
Clifford in particular looks one for the future and the highly rated midfielder, who played for the U21’s in Sligo on Tuesday night, might be rewarded for catching the train over from the West of Ireland with a small cameo.
Both sides are in a similar one run of form with just one defeat in their last six games, Ireland’s 3-2 friendly loss proving less of a headache than Croatia’s loss to Georgia in Group F.
Slaven Bilic’s side currently sit a point behind Greece in their qualifying group and with players like Spurs trio Vedran Corluka, Niko Kranjcar, Luka Modric not to mention former Arsenal striker Eduardo and Rangers striker Nikica Jelavic in their ranks the Croats possess the players to give Ireland a difficult night.
Ireland Team: Given (Aston Villa); Kelly (Fulham), Dunne (Aston Villa), St Ledger (Leicester City), Ward (Wolves); Duff (Fulham), Gibson (Manchester United), Whelan (Stoke City), Hunt (Wolves); Long (WBA), Keane (Spurs)
Last six results:
Ireland 2 Italy 0
Macedonia 0 Ireland 2
Ireland 1 Scotland 0
Ireland 5 Northern Ireland 0
Ireland 2 Uruguay 3
Ireland 2 Macedonia 1
Croatia 2 Georgia 1
France 0 Croatia 0
Georgia 1 Croatia 0
Croatia 4 Czech Republic 2
Croatia 3 Malta 0
Croatia 2 Norway 1
Previous meetings between Ireland and Croatia
Ireland 2 Croatia 2 Lansdowne Road 1996 Friendly
Ireland 2 Croatia 0 Lansdowne Road 1996 European Championship qualifier
Croatia 1 Ireland 0 Zagreb 1999 European Championship qualifier
Ireland 2 Croatia 2 Lansdowne Road 2001 Friendly
Ireland 1 Croatia 0 Lansdowne Road 2004 Friendly