Football / World Cup USA '94: Irish worries evaporate under Florida sun: Jack Charlton's team are ready to wave goodbye to Mexico. Trevor Haylett reports from Orlando

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The Independent Online
HAVING done what they make a habit of doing well under Jack Charlton, namely winning matches they are not expected to win, the Republic of Ireland must show today in the Orlando oven that they can also take care of those participants who are there only to pad out the first round of World Cup competition.

After beating Italy they are expected to deal comfortably with the challenge from Mexico who are making optimistic, confrontational noises but who, deep down, fear what awaits them in the Citrus Bowl this afternoon.

Ireland appear so at ease with themselves and their business that Florida's favourite line commanding one and all to enjoy the day has long since been rendered superfluous. Charlton goes as far as to describe his squad as 'the most relaxed in the world' and even this week's worries over fitness and health have evaporated under the piercing sun.

His skipper and chief lieutenant, Andy Townsend, again has free movement without pain in his legs after a reaction from mosquito repellant confined him to barracks. And Tommy Coyne is perpetual motion again following his alarming experience last Saturday when the effort left him exhausted and with crushing headaches. So the manager who distrusts change will do what he likes best and send out the same winning team.

Having rigorously made a stand over the availability of water for his worker-bees and forced a rethink, if not a back down, from Fifa, football's law-enforcers, Charlton was able yesterday to carry out their demand, which is to concentrate on coaching and stop his belly-aching.

The irony in Fifa's riposte is that Charlton has no need to concentrate on his coaching duties. Indeed, he is struggling to fill out training time. Never one to weigh down his charges with complicated theory or homilies on how best to counteract the opposition's strengths, he has taken the opportunity to give them as much time off as they wanted.

They have had a day with their families and a day among themselves at the seaside. Resting, sunbathing and playing cards; they were indistinguishable among the throng of holidaymakers drawn to Cocoa Beach on Florida's Atlantic coast.

It was a peaceful period, in welcome contrast to the pandemonium which has overtaken their Orlando hotel. People wearing green and big, big smiles have besieged the place and are prepared to wait hours in the hope of a photograph, an autograph or just a few words of recognition from their heroes. So enthusaistic are they in their support that Irish officials have been forced to enlist the aid of police and security men just to help the players make it down for breakfast in time.

It is the only distraction for Charlton's settled, contented party. 'We have really done nothing since the Italy match,' he said. 'I am not looking at the players' fitness now but replacing what they have lost. Even so they are that enthusiastic that trying to get them off the field is like pulling teeth. We are probably the most relaxed team in the world, the players are enjoying themselves.'

Charlton says there is nothing the Mexicans can do which his team cannot take care of, but his captain, Andy Townsend, struck a note of warning when he said how important it was to treat the next task just as seriously as the last. The Irish want to win the group which, in theory at least, should give them an easier second-round fixture.

'We are concerned that it could all blow up in our faces after last week's big effort,' Townsend said. 'That has always been a possibility after a win like that but you don't beat a side like Italy in the World Cup without having a quality side and that is what we have here.

'There is no question of us taking Mexico for granted. The lads feel that if we can get a result in this game we can make real progress in the tournament.'

Mexico were generally reckoned to have been unlucky against Norway, with Erik Thorstvedt forced into a number of late and important saves. They arrived in America with the tag as probably the most exciting team in the history of their football-obsessed nation but, despite a not unimpressive performance, the result brought recriminations from one quarter. The chairman of the Mexican League complained that his federation had put up a great deal of money and bonuses, only to 'be repaid with that performance'.

It has given the team an extra edge and their celebrated striker Hugo Sanchez, once among the world's best and who, two weeks before his 36th birthday, still has his moments, said they are prepared to face and overcome the physical approach of their opponents.

'We know what to expect because Norway play in a similar way,' he said. 'It is the macho way and if anything the Irish apply more pressure on you. We are not worried about any physical threat; the Irish might be bigger than us but we can be beautiful and in that beauty there is a cleverness about us. When we want we can be sons of bitches.'

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (probable): Bonner (Celtic), Irwin (Manchester United), Babb (Coventry), McGrath (Aston Villa), Phelan (Manchester City), Houghton (Aston Villa), Townsend (Aston Villa), Sheridan (Sheffield Wed), Keane (Manchester United), Staunton (Aston Villa), Coyne (Motherwell).

MEXICO (probable): Campos (UNAM); Del Olmo (Veracruz), Suarez (UNAM), J Ramirez (UNAM), R Ramirez (Santos Torreon), Bernal (Toluca), Ambriz (Necaxa), L Garcia (Atletico Madrid), A Garcia (Necaxa), Hermosillo (Cruz Azul) or Sanchez (Rayo Vallecano), Alves (America).

(Photograph omitted)

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