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Whelan: March will decide Irish fate

Midfielder Glenn Whelan admits next month's double-header against Sweden and Austria could make or break Ireland's World Cup qualifying campaign.

Ireland head for Sweden on March 22 and entertain Austria at the Aviva Stadium four days later as the three sides chasing Group C leaders Germany jockey for position in the race for second place.

Asked if next month's fixtures are likely to be decisive, Whelan said: "Yes, I think so. We know Germany are probably the favourites - well, they are the favourites - so everyone is fighting for the second spot."

He continued: "Obviously, the results that Sweden have been getting, it's going to be tough, but we can only go out and do our best. If we get the right result, it gives everyone a lift and something to look forward to, so that's what we are hopefully going to do."

Trapattoni and his players will head for their Stockholm showdown in positive mood after the 2-0 friendly victory over Poland in Dublin. The Italian for once had admitted in advance that the result was secondary on a night when he wanted to look at his options, but in the event, he got both as Ireland ended a run of two successive home defeats in spirited fashion.

Whelan said: "People were saying it was only a friendly, but if we had lost, it would have been a different story and different headlines.

"We knew it was massive. We have got a great bunch of young lads coming through and it's been a big turn-around from the last couple of years because we have had some massive players who have retired from international football. But the new lads have stepped up and it's massive now for next month."

Defender John O'Shea, captaining the side in Robbie Keane's absence, admitted the new players, and 30-year-old Wes Hoolahan in particular, had given the manager something to think about ahead of two vital games.

He said: "It was a great goal from Wes. There might have been a suspicion of handball - I think the Gaelic Dublin team better watch out. It was a great finish from him, though. The quality of Wes, that's what he is capable of. He came on and he has given the manager a tough decision now for March. He came on and made a massive impact, he did what he had to do.

"We probably passed it a little bit more because obviously the size of Wes, we were looking in the second half to keep the ball a bit better and bringing Wes on helped us to do that - but we can do a lot better at that as well. He took his goal fantastically."


From Belfast Telegraph