Kelly keen to avoid play-offs
Republic of Ireland full-back Stephen Kelly is desperate not to experience the lottery of the play-offs again as he sets his sights on the Euro 2012 finals.
Ireland face Andorra away on Friday before their final Group B game against Armenia in Dublin next Tuesday knowing two victories would at worst secure them a place in the play-off, but could yet bring automatic qualification. Kelly was part of the squad which lost out on a trip to the 2010 World Cup finals after a controversial play-off defeat by France, and he does not want to go through that again.
The 28-year-old Fulham defender said: "To go out the way we did, it left a sour taste in everybody's mouth. It's so recent in all our memories, we don't want that to happen again or be in a situation where something like that could happen again. We are going to give our all and hopefully with a little bit of luck, we might not be in that situation."
The memories of that night at the Stade de France, when Thierry Henry's handball went unnoticed in the run-up to France's decisive goal, remain fresh for Kelly and his team-mates and provided added inspiration for the task ahead of them.
He said: "Yes, they definitely fuel it, especially with the way it happened.
"Most of the players were there and played in that game and it's so fresh in our memories that it is something that's a driving force to push us on to get automatic qualification."
Friday night's trip to the Estadi Comunal may not be the most taxing Ireland have faced to date, but Kelly knows there is little or no margin for error.
Ireland currently trail group leaders Russia by two points and know only defeat for Dick Advocaat's men in Slovakia this week, coupled with victories for them against the Andorrans and Armenia in Dublin next Tuesday will see them top the group.
Asked if it would be a disaster not to win in the Pyrenees, Kelly replied: "It would be a big disaster for us - there's no question of that.
"We need to win that game so that for once, if things go all right for us, we are going into the last game maybe with a chance of it being in our own hands. That would be an opportunity we haven't had that often in qualifying campaigns, and if we were to mess up in Andorra, that would really be a disaster."
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