McCarthy faced with Russia threat

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The Independent Online

For a team that has not qualified for the European Championships for 14 years, it comes as a surprise to find the Republic of Ireland seeded for the 2004 competition. Despite this, Mick McCarthy has arguably a slightly more awkward draw than Sven Goran Eriksson.

If the Republic are to avoid the play-offs, which have proved their downfall when attempting to make the last two European Championships, then the Russians form the most obvious obstacle. The teams met in the 1988 finals, for which Jack Charlton prepared his side by taking them to Phoenix Park races and on to a pub crawl.

They had already beaten England in Stuttgart, but Charlton reckoned the 1-1 draw with the Soviet Union in Hanover which followed three days later to be as good as any produced by an Irish side outside Dublin.

Their track record against their group opponents withstands scrutiny, especially for a team which overcame the Netherlands to ensure their appearance in this summer's World Cup finals.

Not since 1972 has a side from Russia emerged victorious from a trip to Dublin – they will come to Lansdowne Road for a friendly next month attempting to overturn a sequence of three straight defeats. Switzerland have been beaten in seven out of 10 attempts and have not overcome Ireland since winning in Berne in the 1976 European Championship qualifiers. Albania were beaten home and away as Charlton's side made it to a second successive World Cup finals.

McCarthy's side will be made more welcome than the one which arrived in 1993 to surroundings which Charlton said were the worst he had ever experienced in his professional career. They returned to Dublin with a 2-1 win and then as now, it is the result, rather than the hotels that matter.

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