Belfast Telegraph

Gibraltar v Republic of Ireland: Irish look certain for victory but will have Georgia in mind

Euro 2016 qualifying Group D: Friday 4 September, 7.45pm, Estadio Algarve

By Daniel McDonnell

Everything we know about this generation of Republic of Ireland players suggests that they will comfortably beat Gibraltar tonight.

It's hardly a startling prediction. Anything less would be a disaster of epic proportions and, for all the respectful talk of an improvement from Group D's whipping boys since their 7-0 drubbing in Dublin last October, the management and players know their brief.

An opponent which has conceded 34 goals in the space of six qualifiers is there to be swatted aside in the heat of Faro.

The Republic have become relatively efficient in overcoming the plucky underdog with Steve Staunton's chaotic campaign, which featured a five-goal concession in Cyprus and a narrow escape in San Marino, consigned to the distant past, although Robbie Keane did mention yesterday that the latter episode remains fresh in his mind as a warning against complacency.

Giovanni Trapattoni did drop points in Montenegro in 2008 but they were a new entity that have since progressed to a higher ranking. Since then, the Republic have taken full points from every clash with the bottom two seeds in their qualifying group. Hairy moments in Kazakhstan and Georgia concluded with a happy ending.

Unfortunately, this has coincided with the loss of the old ability to nab a victory while acting as the David to Goliath, or even the David to David.

This failure is why deflating results against Poland and Scotland have left O'Neill in need of a helping hand from Tbilisi this evening.

The success or otherwise of Gordon Strachan's mission in Georgia will dictate the mood around Estadio Algarve, a venue initially constructed for the 2004 European Championships.

Qualifying for major tournaments is what international football is all about, so that's why O'Neill didn't take too kindly to being reminded of the Republic's standing in the latest world rankings behind near neighbours Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.

The 2011 Carling Nations Cup even got a mention from the floor, a competition that drowned on account of its own irrelevance.

"That must have been a humdinger," said a puzzled O'Neill when the Republic's success in that event was mentioned. He didn't appear to be aware of the tournament's existence.

"What I find staggering is that Wales, having not had a great World Cup campaign, have done very well this time and find themselves ahead of England in the rankings.

"I really don't know how that came about," commented the Ulsterman.

"We have to start winning matches. We didn't qualify for the World Cup.

"We haven't qualified for many Euros and I want to address that," he added.

The suspicion that O'Neill may shy away from experimentation is strengthened by his decision to leave newcomers Eunan O'Kane, from Derry, and Adam Rooney at home.

Belfast Telegraph