Football: McCarthy wary of Macedonia

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The Independent Online
THE REPUBLIC of Ireland's performance in losing a World Cup qualifier 3-2 in Skopje two years ago was acknowledged to be so awful that the worst player in each training session still wears a dunce's shirt bearing the legend "I had a Macedonia". The award is intended to reflect Irish ineptitude rather than offering any comment on tonight's opposition at Lansdowne Road, whose 1-1 draw against Croatia on Saturday illustrated their ability.

That result should prove to be highly beneficial to the Republic in a group has proved to be as convoluted as Balkan politics. Mick McCarthy's team are still waiting to learn whether they will be punished by Uefa, European football's ruling body, after the Irish government refused to grant visas to Yugoslavia for the scheduled fixture in Dublin last weekend.

Whether or not Yugoslavia eventually play in Ireland, tonight's game is one McCarthy's side need to win. Watching a video of Macedonia's performance on Saturday gave them pause for thought.

"They're no mugs," the striker Niall Quinn said. "They outplayed Croatia for 20 minutes and should have scored a couple more goals."

McCarthy added: "They've a very strong spine, with two markers and a man in front of them, and to play through the middle would be difficult."

Bearing that in mind, the manager wants good service from his wide players, Damien Duff and Mark Kennedy. Playing the left-footed Kennedy, in for the injured Jason McAteer, on the right means, according to the player, "I can come inside and whip crosses in without having to beat the defender."

The ploy did not work in last month's 1-0 home defeat by Northern Ireland, when - like Ryan Giggs in the European Cup final - he tended to cut inside all too predictably on to his favoured foot.

Roy Keane, badly missed against Northern Ireland, will be absent again with the injury he sustained early on in the FA Cup final, so Blackburn's Lee Carsley partners Mark Kinsella in the centre of midfield. Tottenham's Stephen Carr starts his first competitive international after a sound season for club and country, and will have the team's temporary captain, Kenny Cunningham, alongside him in an otherwise experienced defence.

McCarthy is demanding one more effort before his charges can recharge their batteries at last. "There's an important match before they can do that," he said. And nobody wants to be wearing the Macedonia shirt come the first training session of next season.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Kelly (Sheffield United); Carr (Tottenham), Cunningham (Wimbledon), Breen (Coventry), Irwin (Manchester United); Kennedy (Wimbledon), Carsley (Blackburn), Kinsella (Charlton), Duff (Blackburn); Keane (Wolves), Quinn (Sunderland).

MACEDONIA (probable): Milosevski; Nikolovski, Stavrevski, Stojanovski, Babunski, Micevski, Sainovski, Trenevski, Trajcov, Ciric, Saciri.