Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Seeding vital for Republic's Euro 2016 ambition

Making plans: Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill addresses the media in New Jersey yesterday

In the week that the Republic dropped to 70th, a lowest ever position in the world rankings, friendlies like tonight's Philadelphia encounter with Costa Rica are gradually starting to take on a little more importance.

Martin O'Neill's job is to bring his new team to Euro 2016, so you can understand that he won't be getting bogged down into thoughts about the next World Cup in Russia four years from now.

However, a change in Fifa's method of organising the draw means that a team's ranking next July will dictate their status in that draw. The FAI are certainly very conscious of it.

As it stands, the Republic are clinging onto a place as fourth seeds, which is a grim position, and therefore it's obvious to say that results have to pick up.

Costa Rica are ranked 28th and a victory for Martin O'Neill's side at the PPL Stadium, his first since his opening day dismissal of Latvia, would help.

A stirring display against Italy last Saturday certainly succeeded in raising the confidence levels, although O'Neill has persistently pointed out that this end-of-season soiree is not about results; it's about preparation for the competitive battles down the line.

"We've chosen pretty difficult games here," said O'Neill, bringing the Italian match and the preceding loss to Turkey into the discussion. "If we'd gone the other way, and if you gave me three or four teams we could have beaten, I'm not sure that would be the best preparation for the European Championship.

"Do I think this is the best preparation? Yes.

"It's funny how stats quickly mount up. We're playing some friendly games... This conversation was going to come around at some stage or other because we haven't been able to win a game or two.

"But I think we should have won our last three games. I watched the Italy game back, and we should have won it."

Misfiring performances in front of goal have troubled O'Neill and the availability of Robbie Keane is a plus. He must decide whether to pair his skipper with Shane Long or choose between them.

Wes Hoolahan, deployed as a 'number 10' in the Turkish and Italian matches, would lose out if the 62-year-old went with two up front, and the manager hinted that the Dubliner might sit this one out. Tuesday's date with Portugal might prove more suitable for a crowded midfield.

With a view to the long term, though, O'Neill denied that he would simply face a straight choice between Hoolahan and Keane, making the comments with the latter sitting by his side at the pre-match press conference.

"Is there room for both players? Of course there is. There's always room for good players.

"I don't see Robbie and Wes being very similar players I think Robbie – let's be fair – would score umpteen more than Wes would score as that's the nature of it."

"Robbie in his career has done both – he has created and scored – but I think nowadays people would probably think that Robbie would be a goalscorer and taker of chances.

"The number he has scored for Ireland would suggest that he has done that in abundance. I don't see any great difficulty for the two of them working together."

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