Football / World Cup: Irish fearing Father Time: Trevor Haylett reports on the Republic's need to scrape off their rust

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The Independent Online
THE legs that have slowed dramatically on the home straight, supposedly taking the Republic of Ireland to the World Cup finals, should still be capable of raising one last effort in Belfast next month to claim their ticket. Then the celebrations planned for Wednesday, only to be postponed, can take place, even though they could not obliterate what was all too obvious from the unhappy events of Lansdowne Road.

Father Time has a permanent place now at the Irish party. The team who have served Jack Charlton so well are growing old, and far from gracefully, on the evidence of the 3-1 defeat by Spain. That has to be one of the reasons why their manager is now casting his line to see if he could and should land the England job, should it become available after Ireland's World Cup venture has run its course.

So poor were they in Dublin, so strikingly absent their distinguishing qualities of fight and passion, it was hard to believe you were watching the same side.

In truth, the warning signs that all was not right were apparent in previous games. Just in time Ireland saved themselves a point from the visit of Denmark in April while, having gone two goals ahead early against Lithuania last month, Charlton was critical of their failure to emphasise their superiority.

Spain were undoubtedly some way in front in terms of pace and perception but Ireland contributed to their own downfall with novice- like defending. The greatest concern surrounds Kevin Moran, 37, and Ray Houghton, 31. Elsewhere there was Paul McGrath, 33, and Ronnie Whelan, 32.

Golden oldies they were not, and the problems caused by the injury absence of Andy Townsend and John Aldridge were exacerbated by Charlton's choice of a less attacking formation.

Now it is imperative that they recover their spirit and discipline in time to finish with a qualifying victory - a draw would see them through if the game between Spain and Denmark in Seville produces a result either way - against Northern Ireland on 17 November.

The portents are not healthy but then that is when the Republic have been at their best in the past. No team from the south have yet won at Windsor Park and aside from the intensity of the cross-border rivalry there will also be the emotional pull from the North to mark the departure of their manager, Billy Bingham, in style. Neither will away supporters be allowed in, because that was the arrangement for the game in Dublin earlier this year.

Diego Maradona has been granted a visa to enter Australia and play for Argentina in the World Cup qualifier later this month. Under Australian law, the 32-year-old could have been refused because of a previous drug conviction. The Australian captain, Paul Wade, claimed Argentina had been panicked into picking Maradona. 'He is playing to get the fans back on their side,' Wade said. 'For an Argentinian side to go through two qualifying stages, then they've obviously got a few problems.'

----------------------------------------------------------------- WORLD CUP '94 ----------------------------------------------------------------- QUALIFIERS FOR THE FINALS (to date): Europe: Norway, Sweden, Greece, Russia. South and Central America: Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, Mexico. Africa: Nigeria, Cameroon, Morocco. Hosts: United States. Holders: Germany. -----------------------------------------------------------------