October 20, 2017

Switzerland, Italy top Europe's World Cup playoffs lineup

11 October 2017, 03:11 | Silvia Roy

James Mc Clean fired Republic of Ireland into a World Cup play-off and victory over Wales

James Mc Clean fired Republic of Ireland into a World Cup play-off and victory over Wales

Wales hurled bodies forward in a desperate late search for the two goals they needed to snatch the play-off place back from Martin O'Neill's side, but they found their route to goal blocked by an unflinching Irish defence.

The 47-year-old was always planning on ending his time with the Welsh national team at the end of the current campaign, though he had hoped that would be in Russian Federation rather than Cardiff, as his side fell 1-0 at home to Ireland to miss out on a World Cup play-off spot.

That is why, for all the talk of trying to avoid teams like Italy and Portugal in the play-off draw next week, other countries will be keen not to be paired with Ireland in November.

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

"Michael and the lads have shown how strong and fearless they are and I'm sure they will relish the challenge". "Every single game I play is for her", he said. But I have always feared teams, it's the best way to be. That's the way to be. And then we go out and beat them. Or so I try. I think he will be lined up for a big job, if that is what he wants.

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"But I am delighted to be in it".

The four-time World Cup winners had already clinched a play-off spot by finishing second behind group winners Spain, but, after a humiliating 1-1 draw at home to Macedonia on Friday, they were under pressure to perform in Albania.

McClean scored the winning goal in three different matches for Ireland in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers - without his goals, they would have been six points worse off.

After the game, O'Neill was full of praise for the Baggies winger, saying: "James has just been magnificent for us".

"But it wasn't that". His drive and determination have been our trademark.

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Former Northern Ireland boss Nigel Worthington, who was a 72nd minute substitute at Wembley, said: "What we had was more a club mentality than an global side and when you have that spirit and togetherness you can achieve your goal".

Just as they did when world champions Germany arrived in Dublin in October 2015 to keep their Euro 2016 qualification hopes alive, and again when they needed to beat Italy to make it to the knockout stage in France, Ireland delivered with ideal timing in Cardiff on Monday.

Last night his stunning strike against Wales granted the Republic of Ireland a place in the play-offs.

At the ground after the game, I bumped into a former GAA clubmate and a fellow alumni at Beaumont Boys' National School.

What immediately followed that was inevitably a discussion on who we do and don't fancy, and even the RTÉ panel got in on the act with Eamon Dunphy stating that he doesn't want to see us draw Portgual, while Liam Brady said he'd love to see James McClean put it up to Cristiano Ronaldo.

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