Filipovic backs Ireland for play-off success

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The Independent Football

Montenegro boss Zoran Filipovic has backed the Republic of Ireland to emerge from the play-off lottery to reach the World Cup finals in South Africa.

Filipovic, who guided his side to their first competitive victory as an independent nation against Georgia at the weekend, might have added a second scalp had Slovakian referee Vladimir Hrinak spotted defender Paul McShane blocking Simon Vukcevic's 66th-minute shot with his arm.

However, he did not and the Republic emerged from a tame affair with their unbeaten record intact to start preparations for next month's even tougher test.

Filipovic said: "I think they can qualify from the play-offs. The supporters here are fantastic and they would be very welcome in Africa."

Few of the 50,212 people who left Croke Park after the final whistle last night, however, will be in any doubt that Ireland will have to be an awful lot better if they are to get past France, Portugal, Russia or Greece, the four seeds in next Monday's draw in Zurich.

Richard Dunne might have won the game for the home side with a 42nd-minute header, but his effort came back off the crossbar on a frustrating night for the men in green.

But Montenegro had their chances too with skipper Branko Boskovic heading wide with the goal at his mercy after 29 minutes.

However, their best opening came with 66 minutes gone when Vukcevic found space in the box to collect Elsad Zverotic's pass.

He skipped away from first Sean St Ledger and then Dunne, but when he shot left-footed towards goal, McShane unintentionally blocked with his arm.

But if luck had deserted the Republic when Dunne's header came back off the woodwork, it certainly returned with a vengeance as Mr Hrinak allowed play to continue.

And so the game ended goalless to give Trapattoni's men a sixth draw to go with their four victories and ensured they emerged from the group stage unbeaten.

Trapattoni said: "This team can play against anyone if they have belief in our performance, our mentality and our plan.

"We can go into the play-offs feeling confident and with belief if we play as we did against Italy on Saturday.

"We must believe. We have built this team and we can do it."

Shay Given, along with Kevin Kilbane making his 100th senior appearance for his country, managed to come through without picking up a second booking of the campaign, while Aiden McGeady and Keith Andrews were not risked for just that reason.

However, the night ended in agony for QPR midfielder Martin Rowlands, who was stretchered off with a potentially serious knee injury.

Trapattoni said: "It's a cruciate ligament injury and the scan looks serious. It's a pity because he has just rejoined the squad."