Football / World Cup: Republic ready for survival course: Charlton ready for test as Northern Ireland succeed in tricky tie

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HAVING lost through injury Paul McGrath, who is most managers' idea of a survival kit for international combat, the Republic of Ireland are taking every precaution to make their stay in Albania for tonight's World Cup qualifying tie as tolerable and successful as possible.

Personal luggage for players, officials, and the media on yesterday's flight to Tirana was kept to a minimum as room was cleared for the vital provisions to see Jack Charlton's men through their visit to this Balkan backwater which is still struggling to reach the 20th century.

Chicken, eggs, Mars bars, water, apples, steak, and, it goes without saying, copious amounts of Guinness were placed on board with all the care shown to pounds 7m-rated Roy Keane and the remainder of this team which seem bound for the 1994 finals in America. A vote to ditch the solid in favour of yet more Guinness won overwhelming support from many of the travellers.

There was space left for a 'survival' bag of essential supplies handed out courtesy of the FA of Ireland which included a towel, a toilet roll, soap, a candle, matches, lighter and a bottle of water (Ballygowan of course).

The in-flight joke was that the fizzy stuff will have to do for washing purposes in the absence of running water. That was the unpleasant discovery awaiting half the Northern Ireland party in February who suddenly found themselves transfered to a different hotel where cardboard filled the window frames instead of glass.

The use of lifts in the hotel is not recommended either after the experience of the Northern Ireland skipper, Alan McDonald, and three of his team-mates who were trapped in one for almost an hour.

Charlton made that same journey to prepare himself for the worst and his words to his players have been emphasised by Kieran Byrne, an aid worker from Wexford who has been ferrying food and medical supplies into Albania for the past year. 'I saw the conditions in the orphanages in Rumania after the overthrow of Ceausescu but nothing would prepare you for the horror and poverty that is Albania today,' he said.

In a country where procuring everyday necessities can be a nightmare, Charlton's approach is simple. He says it is 'the sort of place you come in late, have chicken and chips, go to bed, get up, play the game and then buzz off home.

'But all the time we must remember that the main thing is we have to play a football match and from what I saw of the Albanians against Northern Ireland we will have to be careful. The North won 2-1 but it could easily have been the other way round.'

The Irish have three weeks before they can sign off for their summer holidays. Visits to Latvia and Lithuania follow and after last month's home draw with Denmark they are looking for maximum points to steal a march on both the Danes and Spain who have conceded points to Group Three's makeweights.

Victory over a full-strength home side will take them to the head of the section with Spain on 11 points and Charlton said: 'It's no exaggeration to say that the next month is one of the most important in the history of Irish football. Qualifying for the World Cup finals hinges on these three matches.

'The pitch here is dreadful but if anything it will affect Albania more than us because they like to play the ball on the ground.'

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (v Albania, World Cup Group Three, Tirana, tonight): Bonner (Celtic); Irwin (Manchester United), Phelan (Manchester City), Moran (Blackburn Rovers), Kernaghan (Middlesbrough), Keane (Nottingham Forest), Houghton (Aston Villa), Townsend (Chelsea), Staunton (Aston Villa), Quinn (Manchester City), Aldridge (Tranmere Rovers).

----------------------------------------------------------------- WORLD CUP GROUP THREE ----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts Spain . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 4 3 1 16 2 11 Denmark . . . . . . . . . . . 7 3 4 0 5 1 10 Rep of Ireland. . . . . . . . 6 3 3 0 10 1 9 N Ireland . . . . . . . . . . 8 3 2 3 9 10 8 Lithuania . . . . . . . . . . 8 2 3 3 8 12 7 Latvia. . . . . . . . . . . . 9 0 5 4 3 15 5 Albania . . . . . . . . . . . 8 1 2 5 4 14 4 -----------------------------------------------------------------