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Martin fearful Republic may lose ground

World Cup qualifying

By Damian Spellman

Martin O'Neill has warned his Republic of Ireland team that they cannot afford to be left trailing in the race for World Cup qualification if they are to stand a chance of making it to Russia.

The Republic launch their campaign in Serbia tonight with manager O'Neill believing Group D could be the most keenly contested of the European qualifying round with the pair battling it out against Wales, Austria, Georgia and Moldova for one automatic berth.

"Three of our first four games are away from home," explained Ulsterman O'Neill.

"We need to stay in the competition before we actually even get into it - and these games are tough.

"We are away to Serbia, home to Georgia, away to Moldova and away to Austria before Christmas. Those are tough matches, really tough games.

"I think this will be so tight. Teams will take points from each other."

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