They may not be the most glamorous of opponents (194st in the Fifa rankings; 36 competitive matches played; no points) but at least the presence of San Marino at Lansdowne Road tonight for the European Championship qualifier will allow the Republic of Ireland to depart the decrepit stadium, due to be rebuilt, with a victory. Anything else really is unthinkable for the Irish and their manager, Steve Staunton.
Until 2009, the Republic will play their home games at Croke Park, the vast, impressive bowl previously designated only for Gaelic football and hurling. If they do not win against the Sammarinese - the minnows' minnow but the only nation below them in Group D - it means there will be little to play for when Wales make history as the first visitors in March. It also means that Staunton, whose job was hanging by the slenderest of threads before a draw was earned against the Czech Republic, will also be history.
Yesterday he attempted to brush aside the crisis that enveloped his fledgling regime following the defeat in Cyprus. "It's gone," he said. "We can do nothing about it. We had the right response against the Czech Republic and were unfortunate not to win. But we have to go on and start winning games." Indeed they do.
Staunton not only called for the right result - and San Marino lost their first two qualifiers 13-0 to Germany before "tightening things up an awful lot" and losing only 7-0 to the Czechs - but for a performance with "skill and cleverness".
The manager even named his team, restoring Shay Given in goal even though the vice-captain has been out for eight weeks after suffering a tear to the lining of his bowel and has yet to make his comeback for Newcastle United.
Republic of Ireland (4-4-2): Given (Newcastle Utd); Finnan (Liverpool), Dunne (Manchester City), McShane (West Bromwich), O'Shea (Manchester Utd); Duff (Newcastle), Carsley (Everton), Reid (Charlton Ath), Kilbane (Wigan Ath); Keane (Tottenham), Doyle (Reading).Reuse content