The Republic of Ireland captain Robbie Keane has warned his defenders about the threat Dimitar Berbatov poses to their World Cup aspirations.
The Irish would go to the top of Group Eight with victory over Bulgaria at the Vassil Levski Stadium in Sofia tonight. The sides drew 1-1 in Dublin in March, when Kevin Kilbane's late own goal handed the visitors a point after Richard Dunne had got Ireland off to a dream start. However, Bulgaria were missing Berbatov, Martin Petrov and Valeri Bojinov that night, and all three could return to make life intensely difficult for Giovanni Trapattoni's side.
Keane is acutely aware of the dangers each of those men represent, although his knowledge of the Manchester United striker Berbatov's powers is encyclopaedic after spending two seasons playing alongside him at Tottenham. Keane said: "Of course, he is very dangerous. He is a fantastic player. I had the privilege to play with him for two years at Tottenham and he is a massive danger to us. They also have other players who are just as important but he is certainly a threat. He has got quality – he is good on the ball, he's great in the air, he can score a goal, so we will certainly have to be wary of him."
Ireland were disappointed to have emerged from the home game with only a draw, but they bounced back swiftly to record the same result against Italy in Bari, not only to keep their qualification hopes alive, but to ensure that they still have a chance of winning the group.
Sunderland full-back Paul McShane has joined Kevin Doyle on the casualty list with an ankle problem, but the midfielder Glenn Whelan is expected to recover from a calf injury to retain his place. John O'Shea will replace McShane at right-back as Preston defender Sean St Ledger earns a first competitive start in the middle alongside Dunne. Hull's striker Caleb Folan is likely to partner Keane in attack.