Ireland can finally overcome play-off hoodoo despite absences
After years of disappointment, Ireland have been given every chance of making it to this summer’s European Championships.
If they could have picked a team to play over the two-legs it would have been minnows Estonia who they face on Friday and Tuesday and now they have a vast majority of their squad fully fit and ready for the clashes.
Despite Motherwell goalkeeper Darren Randolph being drafted into the squad, Shay Given is not a doubt for Friday’s game despite sitting out Tuesday’s training session with a stiff neck.
Meanwhile, Keith Fahey, Richard Dunne and Keith Andrews will all be fit despite missing the same session.
However, John O’Shea is likely to miss the first-leg with a hamstring problem and there are some problems up front.
Shane Long is missing with a knee injury, Kevin Doyle is suspended, and Leon Best will also miss the game as his wife is expected to give birth imminently.
Their absences should have no bearing on the outcome though – especially as talisman Robbie Keane is fit and in-form after starring for LA Galaxy at the weekend.
Ireland’s all-time leading scorer bagged the third in the Galaxy’s 3-1 over Real Salt Lake and played a full 90 minutes, making Ireland 11/8 favourites to win the first-leg and huge 4/11 favourites to qualify.
However, Ireland haven’t been to a European Championships since 1988 and their record in play-offs leaves a lot to be desired – they have played five World Cup and European Championship play-offs and have only qualified on one occasion.
Their last play-off disappointment came thanks to the hand of Thierry Henry in Paris almost exactly two years ago – they will never have a better chance to banish those memories.