Giovanni Trappatoni’s Republic of Ireland takes on Slovakia in a crucial Group B qualifier in Dublin on Friday evening.
There is a three way tie at the top of the table and the next few days could shape who will need to book their flights for Poland/Ukraine, who needs to battle it out in a play off and who gets to watch the tournament next summer on TV. Ireland are top of the pile, only on goal difference though as they lead Russia and their opponents on Friday by goals scored.
Ireland then travel to Russia on Tuesday and a win at the Aviva Stadium on Friday and then a positive result in Moscow next week, the Republic will be one step closer to taking their place in a major championships for the first time since the 2002 World Cup.
When the two sides met back in October of last year it finished 1-1 with Robbie Keane missing a penalty. That result came of the back of a defeat to Dick Advocaat’s Russia in Dublin and the Irish will be hoping for a better outcome from these two matches then first time around. Vladimir Weiss Snr knows that a victory on Friday would put them in pole position in Group B.
Trappatoni has selected West Brom’s Shane Long to partner captain Robbie Keane up front instead of Kevin Doyle. Long has started the season in fine form for the Baggies and has got the nod ahead of Doyle who hasn’t played for Ireland since injuring his knee at the back end of last season. Kevin Kilbane will miss his first game for the Republic in 66 competitive games after suffering from a back injury. Wolves’ Stephen Ward makes his first competitive start at left back. Shay Given has recovered from a back injury and takes his place between the posts. Aiden McGeady of Spartak Moscow comes in on the right flank and Keith Andrews now of Ipswich replaces the injured Darron Gibson.
Robert Vittek was Slovakia’s star in a successful World Cup last year but the striker might not start as he is not match fit after failing to find a club following his release from Lille. Vladimir Weiss is likely to start after securing a loan move to Spain from Man City while another familiar name, Martin Skrtel is their leader in defence. Former West Brom left back Marek Cech is another familiar name in the Slovak squad but Marek Hamsik is struggling to be fit for the game with a hamstring injury. If the Napoli play maker wasn’t to feature then it would give Trappatoni’s men a huge boost.
The midfield battle. Ireland’s central midfield has been their one weak point in recent times and their in ability to create goals from the central areas is a cause for concern. Both Andrews and Whelan have started the season well for their clubs and Whelan seems to be getting forward a lot more for Stoke so maybe a change of role for him in the Irish set up. If Hamsik does play then Whelan and Andrews have to keep him quiet and make sure he doesn’t start controlling the game. Weiss is also a danger in that midfield area and Ireland will be wary of his ability to cut open the Irish defence.
Shane Long has started the season really well for West Brom and has continued his form from last season. Scoring on debut, Long is the type of player that Trappatoni likes as he works his socks off but is a fox in the box as he seems to be in the right place at the right time. With Robbie Keane having travelled from LA, Long might have to lead the line for Ireland if the skipper is not on song.
With Hamsik a doubt, Slovakia’s danger man is Miroslav Stoch. The young Fenerbahce winger will be a constant threat to Stephen Ward who is still relatively inexperienced at international level. His pace and trickery will be a test for Ward and Ireland.
Rep of Ireland: S.Given, J.O’Shea, R.Dunne, S.St.Ledger, S.Ward, A.McGeady, K.Andrews, G.Whelan, D.Duff, S.Long, R.Keane (c)
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