Football: McCarthy is in buoyant mood
Euro 2000: Scotland decide against experimentation in Lithuania but Republic show faith in their `Young Dubs'
Saturday 05 September 1998
Their coach, Mick McCarthy, who often cuts a lugubrious figure, seemed as buoyant as Jolly Jack himself in naming a side comprising nine Premiership players in defence and midfield, plus two of the First Division's most highly regarded strikers, Robbie Keane, of Wolves and Keith O'Neill, of Norwich.
While making all the right noises about not underestimating a country that finished third at the World Cup, McCarthy must privately be delighted with the problems faced by his opposite number Miroslav Blazevic. One of the few coaches to enhance his reputation - and keep his job - this summer, he must do without the injured strikers Davor Suker, Alen Boksic and Goran Vlaovic as well as Everton's Slavan Bilic and the gifted midfielder Robert Prosinecki, who says he no longer wants to play for Blazevic.
Croatia can still call on figures as familiar, and formidable, as Derby's Igor Stimac and his former club-mate Aljosa Asanovic (now with Panathinaikos), Robert Jarni, who spurned Coventry for Real Madrid, Milan's Zvonimir Boban and the newcomer Igor Tudor, who joined Juventus after the World Cup.
But McCarthy believes that the Republic's mixture of solidity and flair, experience and youthful brio should mean a serious challenge in a group that also includes Yugoslavia, Macadonia and Malta. "It's taken two years to put an international squad together, but we've got 20 players here who know what's expected of them," he said. "I'd love to have had this side going into the last World Cup campaign."
This game, and the trip to Yugoslavia next month, will be crucial, as much in setting the tone and fully winning over the public again as for the points at stake against the two strongest adversaries.
The Republic supporters would welcome confirmation over the next two matches that the bad old days of watching everyone else compete at the major tournaments have not returned permanently.
They would also love a new hero or two and have great expectations of the 19-year-old Keane. Now playing as an out-and-out striker for Wolves alongside Steve Bull, he will form what looks an exciting partnership today with O'Neill. "Michael Owen has proved that genuine pace is something that unsettles even the best organised defences," said McCarthy. "Robbie Keane has that kind of asset.
"Keith O'Neill has been out for almost two years with injuries. We've missed him, his pace and strength."
Like Keane, the midfielders Damien Duff and Mark Kinsella will be playing their first competitive games for their country as part of a group known as the "Young Dubs". They will be partnered in the middle by Jason McAteer and Roy Keane, the latter stripped of the captaincy early in McCarthy's reign but now forgiven and welcomed back for his first international since last September's World Cup tie in Lithuania.
There is plenty of experience behind them in full-backs Denis Irwin (48 caps) and Steve Staunton (74) with Phil Babb and Wimbledon's Kenny Cunningham in the centre of defence.
McCarthy has said that if offered a draw in advance of the match, he would not take it. Third in the world or not, sharing the points would look a good result in the circumstances for Croatia.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Given (Newcastle); Irwin (Manchester Utd); Cunningham (Wimbledon); Babb (Liverpool); Staunton (Liverpool); McAteer (Liverpool), Roy Keane (Manchester Utd), Kinsella (Charlton), Duff (Blackburn); O'Neill (Norwich), Robbie Keane (Wolves).
CROATIA: Ladic (Croatia Zagreb); Simic (Croatia Zagreb), Soldo (VfB Stuttgart), Stimac (Derby); Jurcic (Croatia Zagreb), Tudor (Juventus), Boban (Milan), Asanovic (Panathinaikos), Jarni (Real Madrid); Maric (Croatia Zagreb), Stanic (Parma).
Latest in Sport
Arsenal Champions League fixtures: Gunners to open with Dinamo Zagreb trip, plus daunting back-to-back Bayern Munich ties
Kevin De Bruyne to Manchester City: £58m deal hits the rocks as Wolfsburg admits they're 'in no rush' to sell former Chelsea midfielder
Pogba to Chelsea: Blues set to smash British spending record with £70m midfielder and £34m John Stones
Manchester City face another struggle to make an impact in Champions League
Paul Pogba to Chelsea: Transfer news live - John Stones latest, Gareth Bale and Neymar to Manchester United, Edinson Cavani to Arsenal
- 1 Hair loss explained: How and why men go bald
- 2 Game of Thrones season 6: Jon Snow theorists believe the Stark may have a twin sister
- 3 Artist takes LSD, draws herself over different stages of the 9-hour trip to show its effects
- 4 A pint of water every day is the key to losing weight, scientists say
- 5 Russia 'accidentally reveals' number of its soldiers killed in eastern Ukraine
Dresden riots: Protesters in Germany attack refugee buses shouting 'foreigners out'
France train shooting: US soldiers speak of the moment they stopped gunman and 'beat him until he was unconscious'
Labour leadership: Jeremy Corbyn accused of 'deluding' young supporters with 'claptrap'
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Iain Duncan Smith calls for urgent ESA overhaul as part of drive to cut down welfare costs
£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...
£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...
£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...