MARTIN O’Neill admits he would settle for a Euro 2016 play-off place now as he prepares to send his Republic of Ireland team into battle with Germany and Poland.
Victory over either side would guarantee Ireland at least third place in Group D and a crack at making next summer’s finals in France, while automatic qualification is not a mathematical impossibility.
They could still achieve a play-off even if they lose both games as they enjoy a four-point advantage over closest rivals Scotland, but O’Neill is refusing to accept that they cannot do the job themselves ahead of tonight’s clash with the Germans at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
He said: “I’d take my chance in the play-offs if we can get into them. Who knows what might materialise?
“We have got two very difficult games coming up. We are playing the world champions, players who are playing Champions League football on a regular basis, players who have won a World Cup, players who have got the experience of going away from home and dealing with any given situation, and they are improving.
“And we are playing Poland, who are very, very strong. We are playing Poland away from home, two difficult games. Does that mean that we just give up? Absolutely not. We are going to go and show a bit of fighting spirit and a bit of ability and a bit of self-belief – which is very, very important – a bit of self-belief to know that when you have the ball, as we will have the ball at certain stages, that we try to manoeuvre it because we will get a chance to play.
“The Germans are very, very good, but does that mean it’s impossible? Absolutely not. We have a challenge on our hands and we have the desire to deal with that challenge.”
Ireland will be without first-choice full-back Seamus Coleman because of a hamstring injury and suspended midfield duo Glenn Whelan and James McClean for a fixture which could bring back bad memories for some members of the squad.
In October 2012, the Germans trounced the Republic 6-1 in a World Cup qualifier in Dublin to push then manager Giovanni Trapattoni to the brink.
However, skipper Robbie Keane insists a black night for Irish football will not be on his mind this time.
Keane said: “No, certainly not. We have got a different management staff, we have had new players come in. I’m certainly not one of those players who looks back.
“We have a squad of players here now that is quite capable of getting something against the Germans. They are still a fantastic team, but they certainly have a few flaws in the team.”
It has been an eventful few days for Keane, who became a father for the second time on Monday evening and then dashed across the Atlantic to meet up with his international team-mates.
The Republic’s assistant manager Roy Keane appeared nonplussed when asked about the LA Galaxy frontman’s availability as a result, suggesting to much hilarity that it would not be a problem as long as he was not breastfeeding.