The Republic of Ireland have become used to bitter disappointment in recent years, losing in the play-offs for a series of tournaments. Presented with what seemed an excellent chance to qualify directly for Euro 2012 they are already in danger of being subjected to another eliminator, at best.
What seemed a straightforward qualifying group has become extremely complicated with three points separating four teams. Leading the group are Russia, by virtue of a 3-2 victory in Dublin in October that threatened to crush Irish ambitions. A draw in Slovakia a few days later rekindled hope but Giovanni Trapattoni's side cannot afford to drop more home points.
It is with that awareness that the Italian has named an attacking side for tonight's match against Macedonia. He admits Darron Gibson has been preferred to Paul Green in central midfield because of his long-range shooting. "I have seen many of Macedonia's games and usually away from home, they play very deep. I have told Gibson to get on the ball and shoot. I have told him and Aiden McGeady to shoot whenever they can."
Trapattoni gives competitive debuts to Keiren Westwood, Darren O'Dea and Kevin Foley, in goal, central defence and at right-back respectively. Robbie Keane will start but, having played only 20 minutes in six weeks due to a calf injury, he accepts he will do well to last an hour. Richard Dunne and Damien Duff are fit to play after injury worries. Elsewhere in Group B Russia travel to Armenia and Andorra host Slovakia.
In Group G Bulgaria host Switzerland in Sofia. Both teams have beaten Wales but lost to England and the group leaders Montenegro.
The most interesting of the other matches is the Scandinavian derby between Norway and Denmark in Group H. The Norwegians, coached again by the former Wimbledon manager Egil Olsen, have won their first three matches. Victory would put them five points clear of Portugal with the campaign half done. Arsenal's Nicklas Bendtner hopes to play for the Danes despite suffering an ankle sprain in training.Reuse content