O’Neill calls for cool heads in Cardiff caul­dron

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - COLIN YOUNG

MARTIN O’NEILL is ap­peal­ing for calm among his squad as they pre­pare for to­mor­row evening’s World Cup qual­i­fier show­down against Wales in

Cardiff.

The Repub­lic of Ire­land man­ager was speak­ing fol­low­ing Chris Cole­man’s as­ser­tion that there would be “nee­dle” be­tween the two sides af­ter Neil Tay­lor broke Sea­mus Cole­man’s leg in the first tie be­tween the two sides in Dublin.

O’Neill, who is still with­out his in­flu­en­tial cap­tain as he re­cov­ers from the in­jury suf­fered in March’s goal­less draw, tried to play down any hint of an­tag­o­nism or con­tro­versy prior to to­mor­row night’s fi­nal qual­i­fy­ing game.

Both sides need a vic­tory to be in with a chance of be­ing among the top eight Euro­pean sides to make the play-offs. The sec­ond-placed side with the low­est points tally from the nine qual­i­fy­ing groups will miss out and the Group D sides are in a pre­car­i­ous po­si­tion at present. And the out­come will not be known un­til the fi­nal qual­i­fy­ing matches are played on Tues­day night.

Ire­land man­ager O’Neill, who has no sus­pen­sions or fresh in­juries for the clash fol­low­ing Fri­day night’s 2-0 vic­tory over Moldova in Dublin, will call on his play­ers to keep their heads in the in­ten­sity of the smaller Cardiff sta­dium. The Welsh FA could have played this game at the Mil­len­nium Sta­dium but have switched it to the home of Cham­pi­onship side Cardiff City at the in­sis­tence of Chris Cole­man. The Wales boss is clearly hop­ing home ad­van­tage, and the close­ness of sup­port­ers to the pitch, will be a ma­jor fac­tor.

The Ire­land squad travel to the Welsh cap­i­tal to­day with O’Neill warn­ing his play­ers to keep their calm in the face of what could be a hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment.

“With the in­tense at­mos­phere there, you need to play with your head and you have to play with a great deal of in­ten­sity too — and the two don’t al­ways marry,” said O’Neill. “And if we have some chances like we had on Fri­day night, we have to take them and be more clin­i­cal, it’s re­ally as sim­ple as that.

“Be­cause even­tu­ally, if you keep spurn­ing chances like that, you are not go­ing to win football matches. I think it is ac­tu­ally about tak­ing chances. I know the op­po­si­tion will be dif­fer­ent and it will be tight but if we cre­ate clear-cut chances, a per­cent­age has got to be good.

“I don’t know if there is any heat in the game. I can imag­ine it be­ing like Scot­land at Celtic Park. That be­came like a league game as much as any­thing else and it might turn out to be ex­actly the same. You are pro­mot­ing nee­dle but it is not in my head set.

“I have not men­tioned any­thing about Wales at all. Wales has never come into the equa­tion and be­cause ob­vi­ously we had the game on Fri­day night and it would not have made a lot of dif­fer­ence in terms of my think­ing, be­cause we had to go and win. I’ll have a wee think about it, I’ll re­play things, have a look, see how the play­ers are. We have a cou­ple of play­ers com­ing back who have been big play­ers for us but we are ready to go.”

James McClean and Rob­bie Brady will re­turn from sus­pen­sion and are both ex­pected to start, leav­ing O’Neill with the dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion of who to leave out. Cal­lum O’Dowda seems cer­tain to re­turn to the bench af­ter his ex­cel­lent first com­pet­i­tive start, and Wes Hoola­han’s fit­ness and en­ergy lev­els will be scru­ti­nised to­day. Daryl Mur­phy may also be among the sub­sti­tutes, de­spite his two goals against Moldova.

That would leave Shane Long as a starter up front, but the Southamp­ton striker missed three ex­cel­lent chances on Fri­day and has yet to score for his club this sea­son in his six Premier League ap­pear­ances.

“I will re­play the Moldova game again ob­vi­ously and have a look at it but it is prob­a­bly worth em­pha­sis­ing again that cen­tre-for­wards get great con­fi­dence from scor­ing goals and he has missed a cou­ple of chances there,” said O’Neill. “He passed that com­ment on to me that he couldn’t buy a goal at the mo­ment as we were on the way into the dress­ing-room and it was a dress­ing-room com­ment, like every­thing else. I will have a look at it and see how he is but it would have been nice if one of those chances went in. It would have been a big boost for him.”

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