Belfast Telegraph

I'll fear play-off opponents until we beat them, blasts Republic of Ireland manager


By Damian Spellman

Martin O'Neill joked he would fear any team standing between the Republic of Ireland and their World Cup dream - before they go out and beat them.

The Republic booked their place in next month's play-offs by inflicting a first home defeat in four years on Euro 2016 semi-finalists Wales to clinch second place in Group D and end Welsh hopes of making it to Russia.

Ireland will be unseeded and could end up facing Italy or Portugal over two legs, although O'Neill had a message for his side's potential opponents.

Asked if he feared any team, he replied: "I don't think everybody would want to play us.

"Do I fear teams in there? Absolutely, every one of them. But I have always feared teams, it's the best way to be. And then we go out and beat them.

"I think I speak for a lot of the nations in the play-offs - I don't think anyone would want to play Italy, I don't think anyone would want to be playing Portugal - although Portugal might beat Switzerland. But I am delighted to be in it."

The Republic secured their place courtesy of a spirited display at the Cardiff City Stadium in a game which was settled by James McClean's 57th-minute strike.

O'Neill said: "The performance of the players was fantastic. We had to withstand a lot of pressure, which you would expect. Wales put us under that pressure, as befits a side that had done so brilliantly at the Euros.

"But we had to come here tonight to win and we have come through and we have done exactly that, so it was a great performance by the players.

"We've got a lot of work to do. It was a really great night, to come and win in Wales was fantastic. And the players will not give up, that's the point. We might lack a few things but courage is not one of them."

David Meyler, captaining the side in the absence of injured duo Seamus Coleman and Jonathan Walters, picked up a second booking of the campaign and will miss the first leg of the play-off, but O'Neill and his players left Wales wreathed in smiles.

Wales manager Chris Coleman will take his time before making a decision over his future.

When asked if this was his last game in charge, Coleman said: "Right now all I can think about are the faces of the players in the dressing room and the disappointment. They are inconsolable at the moment but they should feel very proud.

"I know I'm going to be asked about my situation but I won't think about that right now.

"I'll take some time to let the dust settle and then I'm sure we'll have a sit down and have a chat and take it from there."

Reflecting on four years in charge, Coleman added: "I just reminded the players that four years ago we were playing here against Macedonia in front of eight thousand people, playing for nothing.

"It's different now. We're in campaigns and we're taking it to the wire, taking it to the last game and that's all we can do.

"And with a little bit of luck and a wing and a prayer, hoping to get it right in the last game (but) we didn't, the Republic of Ireland got it right. I said before, if it wasn't us it's going to be another home nation. Good luck to Martin, he's done a tremendous job and I hope they go and get to the World Cup."

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