Football / World Cup: Charlton in mood to realise American dream

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The Independent Online
IT IS not often that Jack Charlton is denied what he wants in his adopted Ireland, so when the Big Man invites the nation to the party tonight woe betide those who let him down.

The only invitations that matter are those held by Charlton's team. Unless they perform against Spain at Lansdowne Road this afternoon the celebrations cannot begin. Victory will send the Republic to the World Cup finals next summer.

There is a second way through should Ireland fail to defeat Spain. That comes away to Northern Ireland next month, but Charlton is nothing if not direct. Having gone 10 games undefeated, there is a sense that the team wants to complete the job in front of the fans who had to travel abroad to witness their passage to the 1990 World Cup and 1988 European Championships.

'I want to be celebrating tomorrow night,' Charlton said yesterday. 'It is not a case of not fancying our chances in Belfast, I just want to get it out of the way.'

Should his team oblige, Charlton says he will not be monitoring the progress of England. He expects to be otherwise engaged when Graham Taylor's side take on the Netherlands.

'If we win I won't be in any state to see it. If we don't I will be watching the match intensely. Sometimes people forget I am English.'

Spain obviously have a say in all this. They spent last weekend steeling themselves for the role of party-poopers and Javier Clemente, their manager, has packed his squad with lanky players equipped to deal with an aerial onslaught.

It seems he fears that the match will degenerate into a physical test. Certainly the Spaniards are seizing every psychological advantage, claiming to be delighted that Joao Havelange, the president of Fifa, the game's world governing body, will be at the match because they think it will ensure fair play.

'I can't believe they are so delighted he is here so that we behave ourselves,' Charlton protested. 'All we ask is that we have a good referee and apparently this one is. For Clemente to say we are a physical side is nonsense.'

To maintain the offensive, Charlton is refusing to name his line-up until the last minute, as is his opposite number. He still has a worry over John Aldridge, but the Tranmere striker should start.

A draw would suit the Spaniards, who have enough players with the pace to make life awkward for their hosts. The pitch is likely to be difficult after torrential rain yesterday.

Any hot air remaining after the build-up to a game that will generate pounds 1.4m, making it the biggest money-spinner in Irish sporting history, has been spent pumping up hundreds of balloons. It would be a shame to spoil the party now.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (probable): Bonner (Celtic); Irwin (Manchester United), Moran (Blackburn), Kernaghan, Phelan (Manchester City), Houghton, McGrath (Aston Villa), Keane (Manchester United), Staunton (Aston Villa), Quinn (Manchester City), Aldridge (Tranmere).

SPAIN (probable): Zubizarreta (Barcelona), Alkorta (Real Madrid), Gonzalez (Deportivo La Coruna), Nadal (Barcelona), Giner (Valencia), Ferrer, Bakero (Barcelona), Caminero (Atletico Madrid), Hierro, Luis Enrique (Real Madrid), Salinas (Barcelona).

Referee: F Baldas (Italy).

----------------------------------------------------------------- GROUP THREE ----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts Rep of Irl 10 7 3 0 17 2 17 Denmark 10 6 4 0 14 1 16 Spain 10 6 3 1 23 3 15 N Ireland 10 5 2 3 13 11 12 Lithuania 12 2 3 7 8 21 7 Latvia 12 0 5 7 4 21 5 Albania 12 1 2 9 6 26 4 ----------------------------------------------------------------- Remaining fixtures: Today: Republic of Ireland v Spain, Denmark v Northern Ireland. 17 November: Northern Ireland v Republic of Ireland, Spain v Denmark. -----------------------------------------------------------------