Emerging nations, emerging players. The Republic of Ireland travelled to Albania yesterday in the knowledge that the team they play on Wednesday had just recorded what Brian Kerr, the Republic's manager, claimed was the best result in their history – the 3-1 victory over Russia which has opened up this qualifying group for Euro 2004.
The Irish, buoyed by their win against Georgia, were relieved to fly out of Tbilisi, where they stayed for an extra day because facilities in Albania are so limited. Among their ranks is John O'Shea, who played his first competitive game for the Republic on Saturday, and is surely destined to be captain. But yesterday the Manchester United player revealed fears that his Old Trafford career had been in jeopardy.
O'Shea, just 21, was concerned enough when asked to go on loan – to Bournemouth and Royal Antwerp – to seek advice from Kerr, a man with whom he has forged a link from the age of 15. "The question that I was asking about was whether I should be worried," O'Shea said. "He just told me to keep going. I have known Brian all through my career and he was always there for me."
O'Shea also said he had consulted United's England contingent – most notably his friend Wes Brown – as to what to expect in Tirana, where England escaped with a somewhat fortuitous win in the qualifying campaign for last year's World Cup. "He [Brown] told me it was not the best of places all round."
Kerr accused Uefa, the governing body of European football, of double standards in the way it handles such incidents as Saturday night's when missiles, including a penknife, were thrown at the Lokomotiv stadium. Uefa is investigating although it is reluctant to fine the Georgian FA, which has no money, or close the stadium, which would deprive it of revenue. The Irish, who have not made a formal complaint, would be loath to see Russia, the Georgians' next opponents, playing behind closed doors rather than the hostile environment they endured. The Russians want the game to be played at a neutral venue.
Robbie Keane finally joined up with the squad, following the death of his father. Kevin Kilbane, with a groin injury, is the only concern.
* The Georgia coach, Alexander Chivadze, will resign after tomorrow's qualifier against Switzerland, irrespective of the result.
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