Duff withdrawal hampers Staunton

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The Independent Online

Damien Duff was caught up in the incident where a man with an imitation gun confronted the manager of the Republic of Ireland, Steve Staunton.

A 31-year-old man allegedly threatened to kill Staunton, who ran into the team's Portmarnock Hotel near Dublin. The man then approached Duff, who also escaped, before he himself fled and was later arrested on a beach by gardai. No weapon has yet been recovered but the man is thought to have had a replica Uzi sub-machine gun.

The incident happened in the hotel car park at 7.30pm on Monday and yesterday Staunton sought to play it down. "It's over and there's no harm done," he said. "It's history and I've nothing more to say. I'm here for football matters." The episode has, nevertheless, caused a stir in Ireland and detracted somewhat from tonight's friendly against the Netherlands.

Staunton has also had to deal with the horrific spate of withdrawals, eight in all, from his squad just over two weeks before they face Germany in Stuttgart in their opening qualification game for Euro 2008.

It was with that game in mind that the Football Association of Ireland arranged a contest with the Dutch but Duff, with a "tight" groin, has become the latest to return to his club for treatment.

Staunton is also without the captain Robbie Keane, the vice-captain Shay Given and Richard Dunne.

He has only had two previous friendlies to remodel and reinvigorate his squad ahead of the forthcoming campaign. With a tough group, also involving the Czech Republic, there are grave concerns over Ireland's chances.

"Like we said in the beginning, it's a transitional period and due to injuries it's coming a little bit quicker for some of the players," Staunton said yesterday.

Among those likely to benefit - although Staunton said he will not finalise his line-up until today - is Celtic's 20-year-old Aidan McGeady who should make his first start, while Blackburn Rovers' midfielder Steven Reid has been installed as stand-in captain.

Staunton confirmed that Sir Bobby Robson, who is acting as his adviser, will not attend tonight's game.

The Dutch are also in flux. The coach Marco van Basten has chosen to ditch Ruud van Nistelrooy and Mark Van Bommel and go for youth with much expected of the prolific 22-year-old Ajax striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

Probable teams: Republic of Ireland (4-4-2): Kenny (Sheffield Utd); Carr (Newcastle Utd), O'Brien (Portsmouth), O'Shea (Manchester Utd), Kilbane (Everton); Finnan (Liverpool), S Reid (Blackburn Rovers), Kavanagh (Wigan Athletic), McGeady (Celtic); Doyle (Reading), Morrison (Crystal Palace).

Netherlands (4-3-3): Van der Sar (Manchester Utd); Heitinga (Ajax), Ooijer (PSV Eindhoven), Mathijsen, De Cler (both AZ Alkmaar); Landzaat (Wigan), Van der Vaart (Hamburg), Schaars (AZ Alkmaar); Van Persie (Arsenal), Kuyt (Feyenoord), Robben (Chelsea).

Referee: T Henning Overbo (Norway).

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