Kerr ready for Swiss battle as Ireland roll with punches

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The Independent Football

Maybe it was gallows humour - fail to reach the play-offs and this will be manager Brian Kerr's last match - or maybe it was a release from the growing tension. But even the revelation that the squad had watched The Cinderella Man was met with guffaws.

The film is about a boxer who reluctantly returns to the ring. Kerr, too, has been trying - and failing - to roll with the blows but he burst into laughter when informed that an Irish broadcaster had flown Uri Geller over to bless the Lansdowne Road pitch. "How did Exeter do three years ago?" was Kerr's response, referring to the spoon-bender's ill-fated time as a director.

Kerr was also able to make light of an extraordinary training ground collision in which Richard Dunne up-ended Kevin Doyle, injuring his own shin and thigh. The defender hobbled off but Kerr, already without Damien Duff and Roy Keane, said it would be okay. "That's a daily occurrence now," he added, mindful of the previous day's accident involving Shay Given. "It just gives the photographers something to do."

Given took a full part yesterday, the recovery from his twisted ankle confirming his nickname of "Lazarus". Ireland desperately need him but it seems they may do without Manchester United's John O'Shea, who could be dropped and replaced with Ian Harte. "I'm considering it," Kerr said.

The manager promised there would be "freshness" with changes made after last Saturday's woeful - if ultimately victorious - game against Cyprus. Also under pressure is Robbie Keane, who has not been performing well for his country.

"You are saying that Robbie is going to start and you should not presume that," Kerr replied when asked who would start up front. Nevertheless it would be astonishing if Ireland's all-time leading scorer was dropped. "If Robbie plays I'm confident that he'll be in very good form," Kerr added. He will probably bring back Clinton Morrison, of whom the Swiss were dismissive.

"I sometimes have problems with fast strikers," said defender Patrick Muller. "But I find it easy to play against someone like Morrison who is more static." Morrison will no doubt politely remind his marker that when the two sides met last October, he scored.

However, Ireland drew then, having lost their previous two matches against the Swiss. Their coach, Kobi Kuhn, 62 today, was graceless in saying: "We have more class than the Irish, that's true," while Kerr referred to the undercurrent of ill-feeling as he recalled the celebrations when the Swiss won to secure their passage to Euro 2004.

"It was a great night for them but I thought they tried to rub it in," Kerr said. "There was a guy who came along and gave us a bit of stick in the dug-out and that stuck in my mind. It's not the sort of behaviour that I would like from our players."

Kerr said he believed the Swiss had improved since with the "injection" of young talent such as Arsenal's Philippe Senderos, 20, and 19-year-old striker Johan Vonlanthen, who declared that tonight's match would be "the biggest I have ever played in".

Kevin Kilbane said the Irish players had detected a "confidence" in the Swiss. "It has probably been justified with our performances against them in the past," he added. "They've certainly outplayed us in the games between us. Man for man it's very even and they are a very hard-working side like ourselves but we just don't seem able to break them down."

If the Swiss win tonight, it will not only prevent Ireland from qualifying but will also - unless they beat Cyprus by four more goals - consign France to the play-offs. They face Cyprus in Paris and will be without Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet, both injured, and the suspended Claude Makelele. Anything short of a win for France and Israel, too, would come into the equation in the tightest of all the groups.

Republic of Ireland (probable 4-4-2): Given; Carr (both Newcastle United), Cunningham (Birmingham City), Dunne (Manchester City), Harte (Levante); A Reid (Tottenham Hotspur), Holland (Charlton Athletic), Kavanagh (Wigan Athletic), Kilbane (Everton); Keane (Tottenham), Morrison (Crystal Palace).

Switzerland (probable 4-1-2-1-2): Zuberbuehler (Basle); Degen (Borussia Dortmund), Muller (Basle), Senderos (Arsenal), Magnin (Stuttgart); Vogel (Milan); Barnetta (Bayer Leverkusen), Wicky (Hamburg); Cabanas (Grasshoppers); Vonlanthen (PSV Eindhoven), Frei (Rennes).

Referee: M Merk (Germany)