Staunton does best to stir Irish souls in effort to delay the end

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The Independent Online

Not a natural rabble-rouser, not even a man who looks comfortable speaking in public, Steve Staunton nevertheless did his best to stir the Irish soul yesterday. In alleging that some unnamed members of the German FA were less than enthusiastic about Croke Park and its famed atmosphere, Staunton was trying to whip up some excitement about a match that is perceived by many in Ireland as a staging post to the Republic of Ireland manager's exit and little more.

In a room underneath Croke Park, Staunton's words fell flat and a German delegate then strongly refuted the notion that uncomplimentary comments had been made: "Nothing, with a capital N, was said."

Close to an 80,000 sell-out, the mere appearance of Germany in Dublin for the first time competitively should encourage support for Staunton's Ireland tonight, although the concern for the manager is that so many now see the team in those terms, his Ireland.

Criticism in Irish sporting life has become increasingly acerbic over the past decade and an indication of Staunton's standing nationally could be garnered from Johnny Giles yesterday.

"If logic prevails and injury worries recede, it's not too hard to come up with an Irish team that will give Germany a good game at Croke Park," Giles said. "But there's logic and then there's Steve Staunton's logic."

Staunton has baffled observers with some of his selections. But he needs to get this one right as a disappointing performance and defeat against an under-strength Germany may leave the Football Association of Ireland feeling compelled to act.

Mathematically the Republic can still qualify. It requires victory tonight, followed by another against Cyprus here on Wednesday, simply to keep a chance alive in the hope that the Czech Republic slip up.

Staunton seemed to be using the alleged derogatory German remarks as a motivational tool for his players but there should be no requirement on such an occasion. Germany arrive top of the group, unbeaten and the prospect of inflicting one upon them should have the Irish motoring.

Staunton, who has been joined in Dublin by Sir Bobby Robson, has to come up with round pegs for round holes. He will discover John O'Shea's readiness after a fitness test this morning and there is a call to made on Liam Miller. Brought into the squad on stand-by on Wednesday, Miller impressed for Sunderland at Arsenal last Sunday. With Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle up front, a solid XI can be chosen and with Germany missing essential players such as Michael Ballack and Miroslav Klose, there is the possibility of an upset.

Germany's general manager Oliver Bierhoff said yesterday that "we do take the game seriously". But Bierhoff was already discussing the draw for the finals next summer and veered off-message to mention Germans' ability to drink. "We hear a lot about the mood in Ireland and the 'boys in green' and what they can do. But our fans can do that too."

Republic of Ireland (possible 4-4-2) : Given; Finnan, O'Shea, Dunne, Kelly; Miller, Carsley, Reid, KIlbane; Keane, Doyle.

Germany (possible 4-1-3-2): Lehmann; A Friedrich, Metzelder, Mertesacker, Jansen; Frings; Odonkor, Schweinsteiger, Rolfes; Podolski, Kuranyi.

Referee: M Hansson (Sweden).