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We'll Still Qualify!

Despite sub-standard displays against Israel and the Faroes, Tony Cascarino remains confident that the Republic of Ireland will qualify for Germany 2006. Even if Clinton Morrison can't get to grips with the offside rule!

Tony Cascarino, 16 Jun 2005

Yes, our performances against Israel and the Faroe Islands were disappointing, but to say that we’ve blown our chances of World Cup qualification or handed the initiative to France and Switzerland is codswallop.

To be top of the group with three games, two home and one away, to go is something we’d all have taken a year ago. Especially if we’d known how lacklustre and beatable Les Bleus look at the moment. This is the worst French team there’s been in a long time, with only Henry, Pires and possibly Trezegeut on a par with the 1998 World Cup winning side.

The one thing we mustn’t be against them in September is conservative – Brian Kerr needs to send the lads out with just one thing in mind, and that’s winning.

That said, there are number of things that urgently need to be addressed. The most obvious is our shakiness at the back. I don’t care if it’s Brazil or Argentina you’re playing, you do not concede headed goals from 18 yards out. We’ve been great over the years at defending set pieces, so let’s stop giving the opposition so much space. What would be a big, big plus for us in that department is a fit Richard Dunne. He was superb for Manchester City last season, and is a better choice of centre-half at the moment than John O’Shea whose confidence looks totally shot.

Brian needs to take his share of the blame for making totally the wrong substitution against Israel. Damien Duff is a far better winger than he is a centre forward, which meant leaving him and Andy Reid on the wings and playing either Stuart Elliott or Gary O’Doherty down the middle. Bringing Graham Kavanagh on might have made sense if Israel had been threatening our goal, but we had them completely on the ropes. Having been attack-minded in his selection of Ian Harte, Brian went for the conservative option, which I imagine he now regrets.

I’m not trying to scapegoat Clinton Morrison, but once again he showed that he’s a Championship rather than a Premiership player. Big Jack used to say, “If I have to ask you ten times to do something, you obviously don’t understand what I’m on about”, which applies to Clinton and his inability to stay onside when we’re in good positions. If the penny hasn’t dropped by now it never will, which leaves us with a problem up front.

Is Stephen Elliott the solution? Possibly. In the first-half against the Faroes he looked overawed by the occasion. In the second, presumably after a bollicking from Brian, he did what he’s done over the past year for Sunderland and that’s run at the opposition defence with pace. For 20 minutes he ripped them to pieces, which isn’t something Clinton Morrison’s done much of in a green shirt.

I suspect that the French game has come a bit too soon for Stephen, who needs to prove that he’s got the temperament for international football. What’s crucial to his development is that he’ll be playing in the Premiership next season. If he frightens the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal as much as he did the Faroes, he'll soon find himself in the starting XI.

While it was poor defending more than anything else that cost us two points against Israel, you have to say that referee and his assistants were diabolical. Their keeper getting Andy O’Brien sent off was the worst con job I’ve seen since the Diego Maradona ‘Hand of God’, and something that FIFA should have addressed when his one-match ban was appealed. Instead, they were their usual spineless selves and completely ignored the video evidence, which showed that the supposed headbutt was feigned. If anybody’s bringing the game into disrepute, it’s those silly old farts.

So, anyway, I’m confident we’ll qualify for Germany by beating Cyprus over there and getting at least four points from our home games.

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