Robbie Keane has warned Cyprus that Republic of Ireland will come out fighting as they home in on 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualification.
The Republic will run out at the GSP Stadium in Nicosia tonight knowing a draw would do little harm to their chances of emerging from Group 8 with a play-off spot, while a win would maintain their status as credible challengers to current leaders and world champions Italy. However, while memories of an infamous 5-2 European Championship qualifying defeat in Cyprus will come flooding back for the Irish as they square up to dangerous opponents once again, Keane is in bullish mood.
He said: "If you look over the years at the way we have played, if we get amongst teams and get at them from the start, we are always at our best. But there are certainly always situations in games where that turns around and we have to be disciplined and know when to defend and know when to attack. Over the last few months, we have done that really well."
The Republic have demonstrated an impressive resilience under latest boss Giovanni Trapattoni, and are unbeaten in the group to date. Victory over Georgia on neutral soil in Germany, coupled with draws in Montenegro, Italy and Bulgaria, have sent spirits soaring, and another positive result ahead of home games against the Italians and Montenegro would leave an entire nation dreaming of South Africa.
If you look over the years at the way we have played, if we get amongst
teams and get at them from the start, we are always at our best.
Keane said: "We have been behind 1-0 in games already - Italy springs to mind - and we came back. Cyprus are probably more worried about us than we are with Cyprus, to be honest with you.
"It certainly gives us confidence, but in football, every game is completely different. But it always does help when you have got a group of players who want to win, and we have been lucky enough that up to now, we have got decent results."
That said, Keane is under no illusions as to the task at hand with Cyprus, who trail the second-placed Irish by eight points, knowing defeat would leave them in no man's land. He said: "We have got a lot of history with Cyprus and we have had a lot of tough games against them.
"This is a massive game for us because we have got two games after this at home, so it would set us up nicely if we got a good result. But it's important that we get something out of the game. Obviously, we go into every game trying to get three points, but if we don't we certainly can't lose the game."
Trapattoni will make a late decision on Preston central defender Sean St Ledger, with Stephen Kelly on stand-by to deputise at right-back if John O'Shea has to move into the middle. St Ledger, who has been struggling with a knee injury, completed training at the stadium last night with no problems and will start alongside Richard Dunne in central defence if he suffers no further reaction to the injury.
However, he has already decided that Stephen Hunt will start in midfield at the expense of Aiden McGeady, the reward for recent performances and a promising start to his career back in the Premier League with Hull.