Injury-hit Ireland wait for Harte

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The Independent Online

An advertising campaign currently running here for a brand of lager features the parents of Zinedine Zidane, Rivaldo and Roberto Carlos, each holding an Irish passport bearing details such as: "Born: Cork". Although the Netherlands manager, Louis van Gaal, and his squad may well have given the billboards a quizzical second glance on their journey into town from the airport yesterday, they have no need to worry: not only is Crystal Palace's Clinton Morrison the one recent addition to the campaign to Find Another Irishman, but those whose efforts have taken the Republic to the top of Group Two are dropping like flies.

With the Leeds United defender Ian Harte increasingly doubtful for tomorrow's critical tie, Ireland will almost certainly have to take on Ruud van Nistlerooy, Patrick Kluivert, Marc Overmars, Boudewijn Zenden and the rest without a single one of their first-choice back-four. Stephen Carr, Kenny Cunningham and Gary Breen are already out of consideration, and Harte suffered a freak injury last Saturday at West Ham when Paolo di Canio's stud accidentally cut a vein in his already swollen foot.

He will be unable to train even today and it is a measure of his importance to the team, for free-kicks and corners as much as anything, that the Irish manager Mick McCarthy has not yet given up. "We'll let Ian sit it out for as long as he needs," McCarthy said. "We'll give him every possible chance, even if it's Saturday morning."

Charlton's Mark Kinsella and Manchester City's Mark Kennedy are also unavailable, but there is better news of two hugely significant players, Roy Keane and Niall Quinn. Both have declared themselves fit for one of the most important games of their long international careers, in which a win or draw would effectively book a place in the play-offs, whereas defeat would mean elimination, allowing the Dutch to finish second to Portugal.

Quinn looked a sorry figure in Estonia two months ago, when forced off the pitch after little more than half an hour of the previous group match with his perennial back trouble. He believes, however, that picking his games carefully, for Sunderland and the Republic, has allowed him to keep playing this long: "I have learnt to live with my back problems every day," he said yesterday. "When Steve Bould came to Sunderland he did back-stretching exercises all the time and I used to laugh at him, but now I am doing the same myself."

When Quinn withdrew from last month's friendly against Croatia, Damien Duff, the Blackburn midfielder, made an excellent impression in attack alongside Robbie Keane. McCarthy must now decide whether to confront Jaap Stam with the two little men and keep Quinn in reserve, or throw him on from the start.

Stam was one of several important Dutch players who missed the 2-2 draw between the teams in Amsterdam a year ago, when Giovanni van Bronckhorst equalised with only a few minutes to play. Alarmingly for Ireland, Edgar Davids, Frank de Boer and Michael Reiziger were the only significant absentees in the squad studying the funny posters yesterday.

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