Belfast Telegraph

Republic reserves will take on South Africa

Giovanni Trapattoni has challenged his fringe players to grasp the opportunity to force their way into his World Cup plans.

The Republic of Ireland boss will make wholesale changes for tonight's friendly clash with South Africa at Thomond Park three days after seeing his senior men clinch a vital qualifier victory in Cyprus.

Manchester United defender John O'Shea has returned to his club for scans on a calf injury, while midfielder Aiden McGeady has been excused duty because of a knock.

With skipper Robbie Keane, Shay Given, Richard Dunne, Kevin Kilbane and Stephen Hunt also being released, the depth of the Italian's squad will be tested in full.

Only Sean St Ledger, providing he has not suffered any reaction to his knee injury, Keith Andrews and captain for the night Kevin Doyle of the XI who started in Nicosia will do so again in Limerick.

But Trapattoni has impressed upon those men who come in - Keiren Westwood, Stephen Kelly, Paul McShane, Eddie Nolan, Liam Lawrence, Darron Gibson, Andy Keogh and Caleb Folan will all play — that they need to prove to him they have what it takes to do a job in the remaining qualifiers and beyond if called upon.

He said: “When you go to a World Cup, you are going to have important players missing for big games.”

Trapattoni continued: “I hope we don't, but sometimes you are missing important players, and it is important for a coach to have others, not necessarily with the same qualities, who can play in that position with experience and personality.

“Players like Eddie Nolan and Liam Lawrence, they can play with personality.

“I am looking for a team that does not have to change because players are missing — one time John O'Shea on the right, one time John O'Shea on the left.

“We need to be able to play without even thinking about it because we all know the system, and that's why we need to look at the players who can play in those positions.”

The Republic have a genuine chance of qualifying for next summer's World Cup finals, which are being hosted by tonight’s opponents, after a run of eight Group Eight games which has brought four wins and four draws, one of those points coming against reigning champions Italy in Bari.

Victory over the Italians, who face third-placed Bulgaria in Turin under the watchful eyes of Trapattoni on Wednesday evening, could even open the door to automatic qualification, and that would be a major achievement.

Belfast Telegraph

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