Green Army flies in

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The Independent Football

The exotic adventures of the devoted Republic of Ireland football fan continue this week as 1,000 of that hardy breed arrive here for the second leg of the World Cup play-off against Iran.

The longer-serving members of the jolly green army are desperate for a chance to replicate the happy memories of tournaments in Germany (1988), Italy (1990) and the United States (1994) with a trip to Japan and South Korea next summer, however much it costs. Since defeat to the Netherlands in Florida seven years ago – with Jack Charlton raging about water bottles and not being allowed to bring John Aldridge on – they have had to settle for less glamourous trips to Latvia, Liechtenstein and Lithuania; then the war-zone tour of Croatia, Yugoslavia and Macedonia in Euro 2000, culminating in Turkey.

Now, as ever in a Mick McCarthy campaign, it is play-off time again, on this occasion breaking new ground in Iran after Saturday's 2-0 home victory in the first match. Of the camp followers disembarking in the next three days, a good number are women, which is commonplace for Ireland but almost unheard of in these parts.

Although one female Australian claimed to have been smuggled into the Azadi stadium to support her country in a World Cup play-off four years ago, this is the first time the authorities have officially permitted such a drastic challenge to their customs. Iranian women are not allowed to attend football matches, on the basis that they might be offended by the language used by male followers.

There was an enthusiastic welcome at the airport from dozens of locals yesterday, after which McCarthy confirmed that Charlton's Mark Kinsella will replace the injured Roy Keane in midfield. Steve Staunton will take over as captain if his back injury allows him to play.

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