Belfast Telegraph

We know what it will take for Republic to qualify, says Stephen Hunt

By Damian Spellman

Republic of Ireland winger Stephen Hunt is targeting at least four points from the September showdowns with Slovakia and Russia to make his Euro 2012 dream a reality.

The 29-year-old Wolves midfielder played his part in Saturday night's 2-0 victory in Macedonia which left the Republic firmly in the race for qualification.

But the Slovakians and the Russians also both won at home to maintain the pressure and the first round of fixtures next season could have a major say in which of them ultimately heads to Poland and Ukraine next summer.

Having missed out on World Cup qualification in a controversial play-off against France 18 months ago, Hunt is not prepared to leave anything to chance.

He said: "We knew the two of them would probably win, so it was important we won.

"It sets is up for a massive finish. It keeps us in there with Slovakia at home and Russia away.

"We might not have to win the two of them, but if we can get four points it would be massive."

Hunt has seen at close hand how effective skipper Robbie Keane can be and never more so than in Skopje when, despite struggling with injury, he took his international goals tally to 51 with a match-winning double.

His eighth-minute opener instantly defused the hugely partisan atmosphere at the Philip II Stadium and helped to lay the foundation for a victory fashioned very much in the style of pragmatic boss Giovanni Trapattoni.

Hunt said: "The first goal got the crowd on their backs and then the second one was gifted on a plate to him [Keane].

"The second half was a bit ugly, but we wanted to make it ugly if we could because what's the point of opening ourselves up and being caught on the break?"

On a personal note, Hunt could be forgiven for wishing the season was just starting after returning from injury to help his club preserve their Barclays Premier League status and then pulling on the green shirt once again.

He will hope for more action in tomorrow night's friendly clash with Italy in Belgium before heading off to enjoy his break.

Hunt said: "I am buzzing. I have had three horrible summers and this summer, I can enjoy it on the back of a good win."

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