Belfast Telegraph

Jonathan Walters isn't packing his bags for France just yet

By Damian Spellman

Jonathan Walters fired the Republic of Ireland firmly into the race for Euro 2016 qualification - but then admitted they are still "a million miles" from making it to France.

The 31-year-old Stoke striker's 69th-minute goal finally saw off Georgia at the Aviva Stadium on Monday to cement third place in Group D, the Irish now four points clear of rivals Scotland with just two games each left to play.

For the Republic, the equation is simple: win just one of their remaining matches next month and they are guaranteed at least a play-off place.

However, given that those remaining fixtures comprise the visit of world champions Germany to Dublin and a final-day trip to Poland, who for so long set the pace in the group, coupled with the fact that only a shock of epic proportions will deny the Scots victory in their last game away to whipping boys Gibraltar, and Walters' caution is well-founded.

He said: "We are a million miles away from qualifying yet. We have got a long way to go - two massive games next month. We'll go back to our clubs and we'll come back and approach them in the right way.

"It was obviously about getting the six points this week and that's what we did. We were hoping other results went our way and they have, but we have still got a long way to go before qualifying."

On a night when the stage was set for skipper Robbie Keane to equal former West Germany striker Gerd Muller's tally of 68 international goals, the 35-year-old found himself a spectator for the second-half after manager Martin O'Neill withdrew him at the break in an effort to inject fresh energy.

O'Neill was rewarded when midfielder Jeff Hendrick tricked his way past three Georgian defenders before crossing for Walters to score his seventh goal for his country from close range to ensure the fight for qualification will go down to the wire.

Walters said: "Jeff is a top-quality player and he's got that in the locker, breaking their lines and getting forward and supporting us. It was a great nutmeg by him and keeping it on the line, and he put it on a plate for me."

The win, coupled with Friday night's 4-0 triumph over Gibraltar and back-to-back defeats for Scotland in Georgia and at home to the Germans, have left the Republic with their fate firmly in their own hands.

However, victory for the Scots at home to Poland on October 8 will leave O'Neill's men knowing draws against both Germany and the Poles would not be enough for them should Gordon Strachan's men finish with a maximum six-point haul because of the head-to-head record between the sides.

For that reason, central defender John O'Shea knows just how important Germany's visit to the Aviva could be.

O'Shea said: "Totally, and it's going to be a big night against Poland too. But we will look forward to them, a full house at the Aviva for the Germany game and hopefully a performance to match it.

"It's one of those things: we know we have more work to do and we are looking forward to doing it."

Belfast Telegraph