Given: Defeat would ruin my summer
Goalkeeper Shay Given admits it would ruin his summer if the Republic of Ireland leave Macedonia without three precious UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying points tonight. The 35-year-old has endured a frustrating campaign with Manchester City after losing his place to Joe Hart and then suffering a shoulder injury which required surgery.
However, he returned to action for his country in last week's Nations Cup victories over Northern Ireland and Scotland and will run out at the newly-renovated Philip II Stadium in Skopje intent on completing a hat-trick of wins.
Given said: "It would be good to win this one and finish the season on a high. It's important that we get the right result because we would be seething for the whole summer."
A win in Macedonia would complete a double over Mirsad Jonuz's side and take the Republic to 13 points from a possible 18 with they, Slovakia and Russia currently all level on ten. However, Ireland's last visit to Skopje in October 1999 ended in misery, thanks to a last-gasp Goran Stavreski equaliser which effectively cost them a place at the finals of UEFA EURO 2000.
Alan Kelly was between the posts that night, but Given remembers it well. He said: "I was in Donegal with friends watching it. It was heart-breaking for everyone. "I was talking to Alan Kelly about it and he said the referee said it was the last kick of the game. The corner came in and they scored.
"But that's the past it's about what happens today. Macedonia showed in Dublin they have a pretty good team. They have some very good players going forward. But I personally think if we can get at them, they have some weakness at the back and if we impose our game on them, we have a good chance of getting the right result."
Given's return represents a boost for manager Giovanni Trapattoni, who has otherwise had little to cheer with Richard Dunne suspended, the likes of Damien Duff, Kevin Doyle, Darron Gibson, James McCarthy, Mark Wilson and Jonathan Walters injured. The Italian was unhappy with the late withdrawals of the latter quartet as the club v country debate rumbled on.
Given, like skipper Robbie Keane - who has been ruled fit after a late injury scare - and midfielder Stephen Hunt, admits he struggles to understand why players would not want to turn out for their country.
He said: "When I was younger, I was desperate to come over and meet up and play in the games, and I don't know why that seems to have changed. It shouldn't have changed, it should be the same buzz. I still look forward to coming over, and that's after 15 years. I don't understand my colleagues."