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Martin O'Neill convinced Republic can win next two games in World Cup bid

Martin O'Neill is convinced Ireland can beat Moldova and Wales to keep their World Cup dream alive despite a damaging and controversial defeat by 10-man Serbia.

Aleksandar Kolarov's second-half strike handed the Group D leaders a 1-0 victory in Dublin and left them on the brink of qualification, although Ireland were left to bemoan a penalty decision that was not given as they slipped to third place in the table.

However, O'Neill is backing his players to set up a grandstand finish in Cardiff next month by beating Moldova at the Aviva Stadium.

Asked if the Republic had blown their chance after a return of just a single point from their last two games, he said: "Absolutely not.

"No, we can win our last two games, we can still make it. After a performance like that tonight, I'm very confident that we can win both games.

"There are obviously a lot of disappointed players in there, particularly after the performance. It's not just big words, it's how I feel. I think we can win both games and that's what we have to do.

"Before a ball was kicked, if you'd said to me that you seriously had to win the last two games, one at home, one away in Cardiff to make the play-offs, I would definitely take it.

"I am right, that is the situation, isn't it? We can, 19 points can get you there."

Ireland turned in a vastly-improved performance after misfiring in Georgia on Saturday, and were convinced they should have had an opportunity to cancel out Kolarov's 55th-minute piledriver from the penalty spot with 14 minutes remaining when substitute Daryl Murphy appeared to be dragged back by defender Jagos Vukovic.

O'Neill said: "I didn't see it back, but the players are absolutely adamant it was a penalty kick.

"I have not seen it back yet - I have just come out here - but the players in the dressing room say it's a clear-cut penalty and the referee has chosen not to give it.

"The players were fantastic tonight, really, really fantastic. I thought they gave every ounce for the shirt tonight, every single ounce that they had. They had nothing left.

"It was a big, big effort and if we had got just deserts, a penalty kick and maybe its' possible conversion, it would have been the least we deserved from the game tonight.

"Kolarov scored a rocket of a goal, but I must admit I don't remember them threatening us three times in the game, and apparently their captain [Branislav Ivanovic] said it's the toughest game he's played at international level.

Serbia boss Slavoljub Muslin was taking nothing for granted despite seeing his side take complete control of the group with a maximum six points from their two September games.

He said: "Of course, we are very close to achieving the main goal and going forward, but there are a couple of matches left and this is a very, very important competition for us because we didn't progress in the last three major competitions. I do hope that this will help the progress of football in our country.

"I must congratulate the opponent on a fair and honest game. I also congratulate my players, who played and fought very hard.

"I do congratulate Ireland on their fighting spirit and I hope they are going to progress further because they will fight with Wales for the next spot in the table."

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