Some 10 months after being appointed manager of the Republic of Ireland, Martin O’Neill finally oversees his first competitive game in charge as his side travel to Georgia for their opening Euro 2016 qualifier.
The 2-0 friendly success over Oman on Wednesday was only his second win since taking over, but O’Neill will be highly optimistic of making the European Championships for the second time in a row, particularly as the finals have now been expanded to 24 teams.
That means a top two finish will be enough to qualify automatically, and with world champions Germany the seeded team in the group, second place is probably the best they can hope for, a berth for which they are likely to battle alongside Poland and Scotland.
Along with assistant manager Roy Keane, O’Neill will be under pressure to succeed in this qualifying campaign, and he has a very experienced squad to select from. They still rely on all-time leading scorer Robbie Keane to score the goals, but Shane Long is more than capable of ably supporting him. This is also a chance for Everton duo Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy to display their importance to the team.
Despite the tournament’s expansion, Georgia are unlikely to challenge for a qualifying spot, but they will be strong enough to take points off some of the more fancied teams, so this will not be plain sailing for the Irish.
There is not a great deal of international experience in their current squad, and they may lack a goal threat, so they will be looking to captain Jaba Kankava – who plays his club football for Dnipro – to drive them forward.
The Republic of Ireland’s only absentee for this match is James McClean, who has not managed to regain full fitness following an ankle injury.
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