Given ready for Russia test
Shay Given will rekindle memories of one of the proudest moments of his international career when he runs out against Russia on Friday evening.
The 34-year-old Republic of Ireland goalkeeper made his debut for his country in a friendly against the Russians at Lansdowne Road in March 1996, and the fact that his side lost 2-0 and had Roy Keane sent off could not spoil his big day. More than 14 years on, Given, seemingly surplus to requirements at Manchester City, is in line to win his 107th cap at the same venue - now known as the Aviva Stadium - against the same opposition, although this time, there are three precious UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying points at stake.
It has been a difficult few months for the Donegal-born player, who is still widely regarded as one of the best in the business. However, in the eyes of City manager Roberto Mancini, he is behind Joe Hart in the pecking order at Eastlands, a situation which is proving understandably frustrating for a man who is desperate to wring every last second out of a career which has until now been conducted largely on an upward slope.
Given has made his feelings abundantly clear but was maintaining a diplomatic silence on the situation as he prepared for Friday's Group B clash with the Russians, other than to insist that he and skipper Robbie Keane and midfielder Glenn Whelan, who have also been under-employed by their clubs, will be ready to answer their country's call.
He said: "It's not ideal, obviously, maybe more so for the outfield players because they have got to physically run around for a lot longer than I will be running around, I suppose. But all I know is whoever the manager picks on Friday, we will give our all for our country, as we have always done. That's all you can ask in any sport, to do your best, and I am sure Glenn and Robbie and myself will do our best come Friday night."
The Republic launched their campaign with reasonably routine victories over Armenia and Andorra last month, but know the challenge this time around is far stiffer with Slovakia, who have already beaten the Russians in Moscow, awaiting them in Zilina next Tuesday evening.
Given said: "It's a different level. We have only got off to a good start, we know that, and that's all we could do last month. But we know these two games will probably prove where we are as a team and ultimately if we are going to qualify for the European Championships."
Asked if a draw would be a good result, the goalkeeper replied: "Would I take a draw on Friday night? Ideally, we are at home and we want to win, obviously, but we must not lose as well. I don't know. It's a good question. We want to win the game, but we know Russia have got some great players and it is going to be one of the most difficult games in the group."
Andrey Arshavin, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Pavel Pogrebnyak will be among the biggest threats to Ireland's hopes, with Tottenham's Pavlyuchenko and Stuttgart striker Pogrebnyak giving their side a daunting physical presence.
Given said: "They are big, strong, physical guys - but Richard Dunne is pretty big and strong as well. He plays in the Premier League every week and Sean St Ledger has been fantastic since he came into the squad, and they will relish the challenge."
Dunne sat out part of training this morning as a precaution as he manages a persistent back problem, but there were no further concerns. Given will inevitably cast his mind back to 1996 as he completes his preparations and reflect upon a major landmark in his career.
He said: "I remember it quite well, actually. Lots of family and friends and cousins came to watch the game. We lost 2-0, which wasn't ideal, but I got to play for my country, which I never thought I would do growing up in Donegal, so it was pretty special."