Kerr waives hopes of poor Russian form

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A year ago almost to the day, the Republic of Ireland's manager was in confident mood ahead of his country's Euro 2004 qualifier against Russia. Just over a month later, Mick McCarthy was gone and his country's hopes of reaching the finals in Portugal lay in ruins.

No wonder, then, that the current manager, Brian Kerr, insists there will be none of the "complacency" that accompanied Ireland to Moscow 12 months ago when the two sides meet at Lansdowne Road today. As was the case last September, spirits are high following a run of seven matches without defeat, but there end the comparisons.

"I think that maybe because the team [then managed by McCarthy] had performed well at the World Cup, and Russia had changed their own squad, we went there a bit complacent," Kerr says of the 4-2 defeat. "But there will be no risk of that on this occasion. We know we want to win the game and we'll do everything to make sure we stay in the race for qualification."

So they should. Having clawed their way back into contention, following the disastrous start to the campaign which saw them lose their first two matches, the Republic want to clinch second spot at the very least. Victory today would almost certainly ensure that play-off berth, although several permutations remain feasible as Switzerland are still to play Ireland and Russia in the next few weeks.

Kerr agrees that his team have done extremely well to "get themselves back in with a shout", but does not see today's game as the most important of his tenure to date. "I think the match in Georgia [in March this year] was the biggest," he says, "because if we'd lost there then it would have been curtains. It's a huge game now, but that's only really thanks to the recovery work we've done in the last four qualifiers." Kerr's first was the all-important 2-1 win in Georgia, which was followed by a goalless draw against Albania, and then back-to-back successes against the same two opponents in Dublin in June.

Today, though, Russia will be far more dangerous opposition. Even allowing for the fact that they have only recently appointed Valery Gazzayev as their manager following a spate of internal problems, the Russians still possess impressive individual talents. Alexei Smertin, who was bizarrely bought by Chelsea for £3.5m and then loaned out to Portsmouth, captains a side that boasts other well known faces such as Spartak Alania's Viktor Onopko, Spartak Moscow's Igor Titov and Celta Vigo's Alexander Mostovoi.

Kerr is understandably wary. "They are difficult to judge," he says, "because they have not travelled well but have great players. They always have a go. Any Russian team is a handy number." Even one whose own federation president, Georgi Yartsev, believes that they are in "total disarray"? "I wouldn't listen to anything that old guff says," was Kerr's view.

Ireland (4-4-2 probable): Given; Carr, Breen, Cunningham, O'Shea; Finnan, Holland, Healey, Kilbane; Duff, Doherty.

Russia (4-4-2): Ovchinnikov; Nizhegorodov, Onopko, Ignashevitch, Evseev; Smertin, Alenichev, Titov, Kariaka; Mostovoi, Kerzhakov.