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Republic of Ireland in a hurry to get to Russia: Hoolahan


Race is on: Wes Hoolahan is determined to help the Republic reach the World Cup finals

Race is on: Wes Hoolahan is determined to help the Republic reach the World Cup finals

©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Race is on: Wes Hoolahan is determined to help the Republic reach the World Cup finals

Wes Hoolahan is targeting a trip to the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia after having his appetite whetted by the Republic of Ireland's Euro 2016 adventure.

Martin O'Neill's men made it to the last 16 in France and gave the hosts a run for their money before bowing out of the competition, and 34-year-old Hoolahan, one of the stars of that campaign, is hungry for more.

He and his team-mates cemented an encouraging start to their qualification bid when they took their Group D points tally to seven from a possible nine with a 3-1 victory in Moldova, hours after rivals Wales could only draw at home to Georgia.

Hoolahan said: "It's a great start. There are going to be disappointments in the group at some stage - you see Wales drawing with Georgia. It's going to be a difficult group, but at the moment it's good.

"The experience we had in France and getting out of the group stage and doing so well, we are looking forward to hopefully getting out of this group, which is a tough group, and qualifying for the World Cup."

Hoolahan played a key role in setting the ball rolling for the Republic at the Stadionul Zimbru when, with just 116 seconds on the clock, he slid a perfectly-weighted pass into Shane Long's run and saw the striker end an 18-game drought for club and country.

Striker Igor Bugaev stunned the visitors by pouncing on defensive laxity to level on the stroke of half-time, but James McClean's double after the break proved decisive.

Norwich playmaker Hoolahan, who was a frustrated spectator against Georgia on Thursday evening, much to the disgust of O'Neill's most vociferous critics, said: "It's nice to play for your country, it's always an honour.

"To run out there in the green is brilliant and to get involved in the first goal. But the most important thing is the three points. The last two games, six points is a good tally."

Victory was achieved without key players Jeff Hendrick, who was suspended, and Robbie Brady, ruled out after suffering concussion three days earlier, and both will hope to return when the focus switches to Vienna and a potentially pivotal clash with Austria next month.

Hoolahan said: "We have got a big squad of players, all very talented. Robbie and Jeff are young boys who have got a lot of talent.

"It (Moldova) is a difficult place to come, but we managed to get the three points, which is the most important thing.

"We started the game really well and could have been 2-0 or 3-0 up before they got the goal before half-time. We had a few words at half-time saying we needed to be better in the second half, and we came out and got the two goals."

Meanwhile, Republic keeper Darren Randolph (right) is making no apologies for being greedy as he targets World Cup qualification.

The 29-year-old, when asked if he would have settled for seven points from a possible nine after trips to Serbia and Moldova either side of a home clash with Georgia, who held Wales to a draw in Cardiff, was frank.

Randolph said: "No, I'd have settled for nine out of nine, but I'll take seven.

"Undefeated, two wins and a draw, sitting joint-top - you can't ask for much more, really.

"Yes, we have still got other teams to play, other places to travel to, but it gives us something to build on," he added.

The Republic of Ireland looked to be cruising in Moldova, but they failed to build upon their lead and were felled by a sucker punch in first-half stoppage time when striker Bugaev gave the defence the slip and ran from halfway to level.

When it was suggested to Randolph that he had looked angry as he sought explanation from the men in front of him in the aftermath of the goal, he paused and smiled before saying: "I'm just angry in general, I suppose.

"It was a bad time to concede, and I suppose how it was conceded. We just said to each other it wasn't good enough. We're a lot better than that.

"But we had 45 minutes to go and sort it out, which we did," he said.

"At half-time against Georgia and at half-time again today we knew we had to go out and put in a better display than we did in the first half and do what we needed to do to get the win, which we were able to do."

Belfast Telegraph