Martin O’Neill believes Republic of Ireland have seized more than three points from their first victory over Austria in 53 years. When Group D in European qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ kicked off, Wales were the favourites, closely followed by Austria and Serbia. The stunning 1-0 win in Vienna, however, has left the long shots top after four rounds, two points clear of the Serbians and four above the Welsh.
“I think it’s a great boost for us, absolutely,” O’Neill told Extratime.ie of the triumph at Ernst-Happel-Stadion, which was secured courtesy of James McClean's unanswered goal. “That’s not something you think of going into a game. We went into the Austria game thinking it would be great to get something out of this match and not to be beaten, but then we go and score the goal and you think, ’We can get three points here’.
“Overall I think the other teams would have been surprised. I think Wales and Serbia would have been surprised at our result in Austria. We've played three matches away from home and taken ten points on the board, which is great, but 2017 will decide everything."
First up is the visit of Wales to the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
“The great thing about it is, regardless of who we have available in March, we'll go into the game with some confidence,” said the 64-year-old, who played Gaelic football before joining Nottingham Forest, who whom he won back-to-back European Cups as a midfielder. ”That becomes very important – if the players are really confident, they can give their very best, and that's all you can ask for.
Climbing the ladder Republic of Ireland were 67th on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking in November 2013 – the month O’Neill assumed their reins – behind the likes of Cuba, Burkina Faso and Libya. On Thursday they jumped ten places to 23rd.
“It’s good news,” said O’Neill. “It seems as if things are rosier than perhaps they were before. You can be a bit sceptical about all these things, but it's nice. I suppose it is some sort of testament to the side that we're doing alright and forging ahead.”
Republic of Ireland didn’t qualify for the World Cup until 1990, when they drew with the Netherlands to reach the knockout phase, eliminated Romania on penalties, and lost 1-0 to Italy in the quarter-finals. The third and last World Cup they played at was Korea/Japan 2002.