Where were you two hours after the Republic of Ireland had beaten the Dutch last Saturday? Probably watching England trounce Germany, because that is what I was trying to do. Alas, I failed dismally. In my defence – and to be honest that is all I'd done for the last third of our match, defend – I was in a pub in Dublin. The game was on but I hardly saw a ball kicked. Instead, I was surrounded in a corner, pint of Guinness in hand and in full voice with a motley collection of like-minded Irish.
"Come On You Boys in Green." Our repertoire of songs and chants was limited but none of us cared. What we needed for a bit of tone and style was Bryan McFadden from Westlife, but he had earlier been trapped by my drunken brother, no doubt pronouncing his love of their music. Poor Bryan, for half an hour he had a new best friend and an incoherent one at that. Still, it was time to celebrate a great win, and trust me, celebrate it we did in glorious style.
The dressing room immediately after the match had been similar, everyone buzzing, players hugging each other and cheering but there was still an underlying feeling that there was still a job to be done. Mick McCarthy, the manager, went round the room, shook everyone's hand and reminded us all of the fact. Now we are guaranteed at least a place in the play-offs and Asian opposition. Next summer's World Cup is still a dream but it is a dream that we, the players, management, back-room staff and fans can make real.
Anyway, I'm Irish, so let's get back to the pub. The atmosphere was fantastic with the Irish singing and the English cheering every touch of the ball as Michael Owen made a nonsense of the much-lauded German efficiency and organisation.
Goodness me, what a good player he is,a much better striker than after that wonder goal against Argentina in 1998. His awareness and movement are exceptional and he is supremely confident. Give him chances and he will score, the equation is that simple, and who better to give him chances than David Beckham? Having watched the Germany game on video and the Albania match live, the thing that struck me about Beckham's play was his work-rate. We all know about his passing and crossing – he is one of the best of the world at these skills – but study his performances and you will start to realise how much ground he covers. People always say the same about Roy Keane, but Beckham works just as hard. He and Owen made themselves available for the ball every time England had possession. Whenever they lost it, Beckham was sprinting back, getting behind the ball, closing down space or the ball carrier and buying his team valuable seconds in which to get organised.
During the Albania tie, Gary Lineker raised Irish hopes by suggesting that Cyprus were a matter of minutes away from defeating Portugal, a result that would have given us a wonderful opportunity to earn automatic qualification, but I had seen earlier that teletext on the BBC and ITV had differing kick-off times. The phone kept ringing as friends got excited and then I received a call from Dublin, where the Portugal match was being shown live. I now knew the true kick-off time and that Cyprus had a superb chance to go 2-0 up.
That would have pleased McCarthy. The manager is so desperate for us to reach the World Cup finals, he just can't help but want to win – at everything. Even a couple of days before internationals, he joins in the five-a-side matches and kicks players in the air. There is no such thing as a casual knock-about for him. The ball and the game are there to be won, no matter what the prize. Before the match against Holland he talked to us all about how cocky and arrogant he thought the Dutch were being. He reiterated that no one gave us a chance, even though we were at home and undefeated. "Remember how good we are," he said. "We are a cracking side and we should all remember that."
He motivates the team and, very importantly, he motivates individual players who may not be enjoying their club seasons. Jason McAteer and Steve Staunton are perfect examples of players not getting a game for their clubs but excelling when they put on the green shirt. McCarthy dispels any doubts or nervousness they may have and sends them on to the pitch believing that they are exceptional players. I don't need to state how important confidence is in professional sport and McCarthy instils it in his charges.
Ipswich Town, meanwhile, could do with an injection of it after a faltering start to the season. One win from the first four games is not good enough and it has been galling to lose two of those 1-0. I feel we are a better, stronger squad than last year, but, as new players have been assimilated, we have struggled to find a good rhythm.
It will come. After yesterday's draw, we can start our Uefa Cup campaign against Torpedo Moscow at Portman Road on Thursday in good spirits. It was such an achievement to qualify for this competition, but, now we are there, we want to excel.
We have had them watched, have heard that they are having a mixed season and that it is likely to be very cold in Moscow for the second leg. If we dominate on Thursday, we have to try to kill the game with a 3-0 success, but in truth a win of any kind will set us up well.
Matt Holland, the Ipswich Town captain, was talking to Iain FletcherReuse content