Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Football

Martin O'Neill warns Republic of Ireland of Austria threat

Martin O'Neill has warned the Republic of Ireland not to be taken in by rumours of disharmony in the Austria camp ahead of Sunday's World Cup qualifier.

Opposite number Marcel Koller will be without Stoke midfielder Marko Arnautovic through suspension and will not have Red Bull Salzburg full-back Andreas Ulmer at his disposal because he has arranged his wedding for this weekend.

However, the wily O'Neill is refusing to be fooled by Koller's apparent difficulties after many years of seeing similar suggestions prove unfounded.

He said: "I've got to tell you this, I really do take that with a pinch of salt because so many times down throughout the years, situations like that seem to develop and it's exactly the opposite when you get on to the field of play."

Austria will arrive in Dublin knowing a repeat of their 1-0 November defeat to Ireland in Vienna would leave their qualification hopes hanging by a thread, and that would be a major disappointment in the wake of an early exit from the Euro 2016 finals, where they collected just a single point.

O'Neill said: "Despite the fact that they didn't cover themselves in glory in the Euros, their qualification was really, really fantastic, so I thought they would have a point to prove starting off in the World Cup qualification games.

"They have probably dropped a couple of points that they maybe didn't expect - maybe all three against us, which was not on the agenda. They were strong favourites that night and that was only a few months ago, so they might be disappointed with their haul of points at the moment.

"They have to come and probably try to win the game themselves to get into it and really it is up to us to try to keep that points differential between us, so I think it's all to play for.

"I still think they are a top-quality nation."

Given that Wales, who are tied with the Austrians on seven points, travel to Group D leaders Serbia - who along with Ireland, have 11 points - on Sunday, it could prove to be a pivotal day in the campaign.

However, O'Neill insists nothing will be decided this weekend.

He said: "It is a big week, but then every game is as important.

"I keep going back to the time that we started out in the Euros - Aiden McGeady's goals against Georgia proved every bit as important as the goal that Shane Long scored against Germany, so that's the way it is.

"You have to try to accumulate points along the way. At the minute, we are doing fine, but the second half is the real business end of things and we have to really, really just be on our mettle, be very, very strong."

O'Neill will be without striker David McGoldrick, who has been ruled out because of a knee problem which prevented him from training on Tuesday, but otherwise has a full squad from which to choose.

One of his biggest decisions will come at the back, where Brighton's Shane Duffy is hoping for a chance to play his part.

He too knows there is still a long way to go in the group and is concentrating only on the three points available on Sunday.

He said: "You never know in football. A defeat doesn't rule anyone out, especially in our group, where a lot of teams are going to take a lot of points off everyone. I wouldn't rule out anyone yet.

"It's the same for us. If it's a defeat, it's not the end of the world, but it's a huge game and Austria are going to take points off a lot of teams.

"Our aim is to just focus on us, and we'll see on Sunday. But we're confident going into the game that we can take another step towards where we want to be."

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph