Martin O'Neill convinced Republic can win next two games in World Cup bid

06 September 2017 09:54

Martin O'Neill is convinced Ireland can beat Moldova and Wales to keep their World Cup dream alive despite a damaging and controversial defeat by 10-man Serbia.

Aleksandar Kolarov's second-half strike handed the Group D leaders a 1-0 victory in Dublin and left them on the brink of qualification, although Ireland were left to bemoan a penalty decision that was not given as they slipped to third place in the table.

However, O'Neill is backing his players to set up a grandstand finish in Cardiff next month by beating Moldova at the Aviva Stadium.

Asked if the Republic had blown their chance after a return of just a single point from their last two games, he said: "Absolutely not.

"No, we can win our last two games, we can still make it. After a performance like that tonight, I'm very confident that we can win both games.

"There are obviously a lot of disappointed players in there, particularly after the performance. It's not just big words, it's how I feel. I think we can win both games and that's what we have to do.

"Before a ball was kicked, if you'd said to me that you seriously had to win the last two games, one at home, one away in Cardiff to make the play-offs, I would definitely take it.

"I am right, that is the situation, isn't it? We can, 19 points can get you there."

Ireland turned in a vastly-improved performance after misfiring in Georgia on Saturday, and were convinced they should have had an opportunity to cancel out Kolarov's 55th-minute piledriver from the penalty spot with 14 minutes remaining when substitute Daryl Murphy appeared to be dragged back by defender Jagos Vukovic.

O'Neill said: "I didn't see it back, but the players are absolutely adamant it was a penalty kick.

"I have not seen it back yet - I have just come out here - but the players in the dressing room say it's a clear-cut penalty and the referee has chosen not to give it.

"The players were fantastic tonight, really, really fantastic. I thought they gave every ounce for the shirt tonight, every single ounce that they had. They had nothing left.

"It was a big, big effort and if we had got just deserts, a penalty kick and maybe its' possible conversion, it would have been the least we deserved from the game tonight.

"Kolarov scored a rocket of a goal, but I must admit I don't remember them threatening us three times in the game, and apparently their captain [Branislav Ivanovic] said it's the toughest game he's played at international level.

Serbia boss Slavoljub Muslin was taking nothing for granted despite seeing his side take complete control of the group with a maximum six points from their two September games.

He said: "Of course, we are very close to achieving the main goal and going forward, but there are a couple of matches left and this is a very, very important competition for us because we didn't progress in the last three major competitions. I do hope that this will help the progress of football in our country.

"I must congratulate the opponent on a fair and honest game. I also congratulate my players, who played and fought very hard.

"I do congratulate Ireland on their fighting spirit and I hope they are going to progress further because they will fight with Wales for the next spot in the table."

Source: PA