THREE YEARS ago he was playing Northern Premier League football for Marine, a semi-professional club in Liverpool. At the Giants Stadium in New Jersey on Saturday, Jason McAteer has high hopes of making his mark on the biggest stage of all, in the Republic of Ireland's opening World Cup fixture.
The Bolton Wanderers midfielder could celebrate his 23rd birthday by earning a place on the right side of the Irish engine room against Italy, in the first Group E fixture.
'It's every footballer's dream to play in the World Cup,' the Liverpool-born McAteer, who qualifies for the Republic under the often-derided parentage rule, said. 'You press lads keep telling me I'm going to play. I hope you're right, but only one man's opinion matters.'
That man is, of course, Jack Charlton, the Republic's manager, who must decide this week whether to opt for the youth and vigour of McAteer or the experience of Ray Houghton, who played in Charlton's first match in charge. The anticipated high summer temperatures in New Jersey and Florida, where the Irish play their three first-round matches, could tilt the balance in favour of the younger man.
In Friday's friendly action, Julio Salinas, who scored twice when Spain claimed a 3-1 win in Dublin last October that nearly wrecked the Republic's qualifying campaign, was on target again for his country in a 2-0 win over Canada in Montreal.
Salinas, who is on his way from Barcelona (where he failed to earn a regular place last term) to Deportivo La Coruna, opened the scoring with a 10th-minute diving header. Juanele, of Sporting Gijon, added the second five minutes from time.
Boncho Genchev, the Ipswich Town forward, appeared as a second-half substitute for Bulgaria in a 1-1 draw with Tecos, a Mexican club, in Austin, Texas. The experienced Nasko Sirakov scored for Bulgaria. Patrik Andersson, the former Blackburn defender, suffered a knee injury in training and is doubtful for Sweden's final warm-up game, against Romania today.Reuse content