Football: Evans pleads Babb's innocence

Liverpool's manager, Roy Evans, yesterday defended his Republic of Ireland defender Phil Babb, insisting he did not go missing over the weekend. Babb had been called up by the Republic manager, Mick McCarthy, as a late replacement for tonight's World Cup qualifier in Romania, but efforts to contact him failed.

"He was given the weekend off by us after being left out of Ireland's original squad. Is he supposed to sit at home 24 hours a day waiting for the Irish FA to ring?" Evans said.

The news will come as another embarrassment to McCarthy who knows the game in Buch- arest could make or break him as an international manager. After dropping a point at home to Iceland and a humiliating defeat, 3- 2 in Macedonia, something special is required to revive Irish hopes of qualification.

McCarthy refused to announce his team until today but did reveal that his plan will be boldly to attack Romania despite the home team's 100 per cent record in Group Eight - five straight wins without conceding a goal.

"This was always going to be our most demanding game. Romania are a good side but we will use three attacking players against them whenever we can."

The pressure building up on McCarthy was obvious yesterday when he replied to a question on his own future with an obscene eight letter word. "If you can print that then do so. I am sick and tired of being asked that question - by Irishman, Englishmen, Romanians, the lot."

McCarthy will be forced to make changes with Jason McAteer and Alan McLoughlin already out suspended. There could also be a return from the 3-5-2 to the 4-4-2 system, with Gary Kelly given a man- marking role to curb Romania's play-maker, Gheorghe Hagi. Watford's David Connolly, out for much of the season with a hamstring injury, looks set to partner Tony Cascarino up front.

Meanwhile Barcelona's Gica Popescu, who has already scored eight goals in the qualifiers, appears to be winning his battle to recover from a thigh injury and start the match for Romania.

Group Eight

P W D L F A Pts

Romania 5 5 0 0 19 0 15

Macedonia 6 3 1 2 18 10 10

Rep of Ireland 4 2 1 1 10 3 7

Lithuania 4 2 0 2 4 5 6

Iceland 4 0 2 2 1 7 2

Liechtenstein 5 0 0 5 2 29 0

Remaining fixtures: Today: Liechtenstein v Lithuania; Romania v Republic of Ireland. 21 May: Republic of Ireland v Liechtenstein. 7 June: Macedonia v Iceland. 11 June: Iceland v Lithuania. 19 Aug: Liechtenstein v Iceland. 20 Aug: Rep of Ireland v Lithuania; Romania v Macedonia. 6 Sept: Iceland v Rep of Ireland; Liechtenstein v Romania; Lithuania v Macedonia. 10 Sept: Romania v Iceland; Lithuania v Rep of Ireland. 11 Oct: Iceland v Liechtenstein; Rep of Ireland v Romania; Macedonia v Lithuania.

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