Kerr turns to youth as injuries hit Irish preparations

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The Independent Online

There have been so many withdrawals from the Irish squad ahead of tonight's friendly between the Republic of Ireland and the Czech Republic that it was no surprise when even the bus bringing them back from training broke down yesterday.

There have been so many withdrawals from the Irish squad ahead of tonight's friendly between the Republic of Ireland and the Czech Republic that it was no surprise when even the bus bringing them back from training broke down yesterday.

"It has been a bit slap-bang-wallop," said the Ireland manager, Brian Kerr, although he was referring to his all-too-hasty preparations and not the mode of transport. Nevertheless the roll call of absentees - 10 at the last count - will allow him finally to blood some of the young players that Kerr, with his record in youth football, was expected to do when he was appointed 14 months ago. Indeed, so far he has only awarded five new caps in 12 games. Kerr can now make a virtue out of necessity even if he also knows there are nations much worse off than his own.

"One team had just six outfield players training on Monday," he said of Scotland's plight. "We had 16." Kerr was also keen to stress the losses have been due to "genuine injuries". The noticeable additions are Stephen Kelly, of Tottenham Hotspur, and the Manchester United-bound Liam Miller, now of Celtic. Miller's new team-mate at club level, John O'Shea, has been omitted so that he can prepare for Saturday's FA Cup semi-final, but was in Dublin to deliver a doleful verdict on the Old Trafford season.

"It's not what United are used to when the FA Cup is your only chance of winning something," he said. "But we have no divine right. A few things have gone wrong for us. The Rio Ferdinand situation is a part of it, there was also suspensions, injuries, bad defending and bad luck."

Ireland, meanwhile, appear to be on an upward curve again. Buoyed by the goalless draw against Brazil, Kerr said "There was a good feeling about the team". There will need to be against the Czechs who - justifiably on results - have been ranked by France's coach, Jacques Santini, as the best in Europe. Few would disagree with the verdict of the Ireland captain, Kenny Cunningham.

"I don't think the game has the magical appeal of the Brazilians but in some ways it will be a sterner test for us," he said. With a record of 20 games unbeaten - and noticeable scalps including France, Holland and Turkey - they are undoubtedly formidable opponents.

And apt ones as well, if Kerr is to bring on some new faces as substitutes, one of which will be the goalkeeper Paddy Kenny. Six of the Irish squad, including Cunningham, made their debuts against the Czechs. Indeed, five were introduced together in one match in 1998, including Damien Duff and Robbie Keane. Kerr insisted he would not be "throwing caution to the wind" and is by nature a circumspect character. "Results together with performance breed confidence," Kerr said, and he will want to make sure defeat is avoided, along with players such as Andy Reid again rising to the occasion.

His opposite number, Karel Bruckner, said he was unconcerned about preserving his own run of unbeaten games and both men, naturally, agreed on the importance of the Czech captain, Pavel Nedved. "He's a commander," said Bruckner, who in Milan Baros and, in particular, Jan Koller (27 goals in 47 appearances) also has two of the most potent strikers in international football.

Koller scored twice on his last appearance at Lansdowne Road and Cunningham, who will be partnered by Gary Doherty for the first time, said he was well aware of the threat. "It would be foolish to get into a physical contest," he said. "You have to be cleverer than that." He will need to be. And with that the patched-up squad headed to hospital - for a public relations visit, not further repairs.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (4-4-2 probable): Given (Newcastle United); Carr (Tottenham Hotspur); Doherty (Tottenham Hotspur), Harte (Leeds United); Holland (Charlton Athletic), Kilbane (Everton), Reid (Nottingham Forest), Duff (Chelsea); Keane (Tottenham Hotspur), Morrison (Birmingham City).

CZECH REPUBLIC (4-4-2): Cech (Rennes); Grygera (Ajax), Ujfalusi (Hamburg), Bolf (Banik Ostrava), Jankulovski (Udinese); Tyce (1860 Munich), Galasek (Ajax), Nedved (Juventus), Stajner (Sparta Prague); Koller (Borussia Dortmund), Baros (Liverpool).

Referee: E K Fisker (Den).

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