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Shane Long: Goal means nothing unless we qualify

Published 10/10/2015

Republic of Ireland striker Shane Long is targeting automatic qualification for the Euro 2016 finals
Republic of Ireland striker Shane Long is targeting automatic qualification for the Euro 2016 finals

Shane Long has warned the Republic of Ireland his heroics against Germany will count for nothing if they do not secure automatic qualification for Euro 2016 in Poland on Sunday evening.

Ireland and the Poles will battle it out over 90 minutes at Warsaw's Narodowy Stadium knowing that victory for either would secure a berth in France next summer, while a 0-0 draw would see the home side prevail and a high-scoring one the visitors.

But Long, whose superb strike at the Aviva Stadium on Thursday evening stunned Group D leaders Germany and propelled the Republic firmly back into the race, is not about to settle for the play-off spot his side is already guaranteed.

The Southampton striker said: "We had a big win the other night and we enjoyed it on Thursday night and we were talking about it on Friday, but since then, it's just been focussing on this game.

"They [Poland] got a good result against Scotland and they are going to be on a high as well, but you know, Germany was a great result, but we need to make it mean something and the only way it means something is if we qualify for the Euros."

The win against Germany means that Ireland can finish no lower than third in the group, but although the play-offs represent a safety net they would willingly have taken before kick-off on Thursday, the chance to go one better is too good to pass up.

Long said: "It's always nice to know, I suppose, going into the game that we have the play-offs, but after putting ourselves in this position, it would be a shame not to qualify.

"You don't know who you could get in the play-offs - it could be a tough game over two legs and anything can happen - so we'll view this game tomorrow as our play-off.

"If we win that, we're at the Euros, so that's our main goal. It would make the goal on Thursday a bit more meaningful if it helped us get to the Euros.

"It was a great night, but we have got to focus on Poland now. As I said, we have got to make it mean something."

Long will hope his efforts against the Germans will give him a chance of starting at the Narodowy Stadium on a night when Seamus Coleman and Marc Wilson return to contention after injury and Glenn Whelan and James McClean from suspension.

Keeper Shay Given has withdrawn with a knee problem and full-back Stephen Ward did not travel after his efforts on Thursday took their toll.

But Poland too have issues, with dangerous frontman Arkadiusz Milik sidelined, although with Robert Lewandowski currently in the form of his life O'Neill is under few illusions as to how difficult his side's task will be.

He said: "He [Milik] being missing is obviously a blow to Poland. He's a brilliant player, he really has been exceptional, particularly in the tournament. But I don't think they are short of too of many ready-made replacements.

"I'd say outside the very, very best players playing in the world, [Lionel] Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo, Lewandowski is in a bracket of a number of players that you would say is not far behind. It's really brilliant when you have someone like that there to rely on.

"He's been exceptional for them and they are going to cause you plenty of problems. But we have to cope with that and try to come through."

Meanwhile, O'Neill insisted he knew nothing about reports that he will be offered a two-year contract extension as a reward for his efforts to date, although Press Association Sport understands that will be the case.

He said: "No, I have nothing to say about it, the situation is exactly the same as before. Whatever reports have come out, it's news to me."

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