Republic of Ireland: Flair that can start a fire

Matt Holland provides an exclusive insider's view of the Mick McCarthy challenge
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If the Republic of Ireland fail to progress past the initial group stage in Japan, it will be considered, not least by the players and management themselves, a disappointing tournament. Ignore for the moment the other three countries in Group E, Germany Cameroon and Saudi Arabia, and concentrate on our record in qualifying. The only defeat came in the final play-off tie in Tehran in front of a hostile 100,000 strong crowd, and proved irrelevant as we won on aggregate.

If the Republic of Ireland fail to progress past the initial group stage in Japan, it will be considered, not least by the players and management themselves, a disappointing tournament. Ignore for the moment the other three countries in Group E, Germany Cameroon and Saudi Arabia, and concentrate on our record in qualifying. The only defeat came in the final play-off tie in Tehran in front of a hostile 100,000 strong crowd, and proved irrelevant as we won on aggregate.

The actual group matches included four fixtures against two of the world's best and most favoured teams, Holland and Portugal, and we drew three and won the last, crucial tie against Holland with only 10 men on the field for much of the second half. These were excellent performances that probably only those involved in believed we could produce.

We earned our tickets east through tenacious, combative and organised football. Countries who succeed in World Cups tend to have a bit more than that, however, and in Damien Duff and Robbie Keane we feel that we have a couple of jack-in-the-box players to run at defences.

As for our opponents, Germany are clearly the major threat despite their infamous loss to England. Cameroon are talented but unpredictable and Saudi Arabia should be the weakest. Not that they will be underestimated. That is not the style of Mick McCarthy.

All opponents are studied and afforded respect, but the manager insists to us that we are as good if not better than each team we play. One of his most important attributes is his ability to communicate with everyone, and not just those selected. Feelings of discontent do not fester because he explains in private to each player why he has not been picked. The skill is to make you feel an invaluable member of the squad and team. This is helped by loyalty, as demonstrated by his selections below.

We all suffer from nerves, some more than others, but he has watched us develop and knows how to give each player a little boost before the match. For some it is a joke and a laugh, for others a discreet pat on the back.

Shay Given: An outstanding season for Newcastle and the Republic. Two crucial saves against Iran in the play-off stand out, but his form has been superb all year.

Dean Kiely: The top keeper in the Premier League this season, according to the Opta statistics. Unlucky to have Given ahead of him.

Alan Kelly: Played an important role in the early qualifiers, particularly in the match against Portugal. Very experienced keeper and a previous Republic of Ireland Player of the Year.

Steve Finnan: Selected in the PFA team of the season and made a fantastic impact when brought on against Holland, crossing the ball for Jason McAteer's goal. With no Stephen Carr, who is injured, we're lucky to have a player like Finnan at right-back.

Gary Breen: A ball-playing centre-half, a good talker and organiser. Ensures we keep our structure and discipline during the match.

Andy O'Brien: Had a very good season for Newcastle. Talented in defence but also versatile and could provide cover in midfield.

Steve Staunton: The "veteran". Needs one more cap to become the first Republic player to win 100. Our "been there, done that" man.

Richard Dunne: Big, uncompromising centre-half but also a good ball-user. Excelled in vital match against Portugal. Seems to have been around for ever but is only 22.

Ian Harte: His left foot makes him as much a threat from free-kicks as Rivaldo or Beckham. One of only two to have played in every qualifier and our elected penalty-taker.

Gary Kelly: More generous with his testimonial that he gave to charity than he is in tackles. A good squad man and one of the jokers.

Kenny Cunningham: Very experienced and another good talker on the pitch. Suffered with injury in the last 12 months but a presence whenever he plays.

Jason McAteer: Chief joker of squad, although rarely intentionally. Showed depth of spirit when he scored vital goal against Holland despite struggling to get in club side.

Mark Kinsella: Has suffered with injuries recently but is a hard-working box-to-box player with a knack of scoring crucial goals.

Kevin Kilbane: Played every qualifier and worked exceptionally hard out on the left flank. Difficult to imagine a Republic team without him out there, chasing up and down the line.

Steven Reid: Strong and quick, which can make him a handful to defend against. Must have been close to the original selection and is an ideal replacement for Mark Kennedy.

Lee Carsley: Hardly featured in qualifiers but is a committed player and works very hard. Adept at breaking up attacks.

Matt Holland: Wish I could say the same about him! Will settle for industrious, passionate and scorer of occasional vital goal. Oh yes, and thrilled to be playing in a World Cup.

Robbie Keane: Skilful, aggressive goal-scorer. If he has a good tournament, we will score goals and could do very well.

Niall Quinn: Menace for central defenders because of his size and strength. Integral part of the squad. Followed example of Kelly by gifting his testimonial to charity.

Damien Duff: My choice as one of the stars of the tournament. Great ball control, very skilful and confident when attacking defenders. I'm sure he will get fouled a lot.

Clinton Morrison: Two goals from six matches, most as a substitute, is a fine record.

David Connolly: Eight goals in 32 games and, like Morrison, rarely starts.

In an interview with Iain Fletcher

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