Republic of Ireland midfielder Keith Andrews has revealed excitement is mounting at the prospect of qualifying for next summer’s World Cup finals.
Andrews and his team-mates took a significant step towards South Africa with last night’s 2-1 Group Eight victory in Cyprus, although they know there is much work to be done before they can start thinking about a return to the big stage.
But while experienced manager Giovanni Trapattoni was at pains to keep feet firmly on the ground after the game, there is a growing sense of anticipation inside as well as outside the dressing room.
Andrews said: “We have touched on it in the preparations this week, that it’s not a million miles away.
“We are three games away from possibly going to the World Cup depending on our results and other results.
“We have got the first result under our belts and hopefully we can use the next two performances to get us enough points to qualify.”
Victory in Nicosia, courtesy of skipper Robbie Keane’s 83rd-minute header, ensured the Republic remain only a point adrift of leaders Italy and five clear of third-placed Bulgaria, who meet in Turin on Wednesday night in their game in hand on the Irish.
What happens there could have a significant say in the ultimate destiny of the group, with Ireland due to bring their campaign to a conclusion with home games against the Italians and Montenegro in the space of five days next month.
The world champions remain favourites to clinch the one automatic qualification spot, while Trapattoni’s men are in the box seat for second place and a play-off berth.
But that is far from the limit of their ambition with first place still up for grabs.
Andrews said: “That’s our aim. If we fall short, then we fall short, but it’s certainly in our heads.
“We are aiming for that spot and hopefully we can get it.”
Indeed, Ireland had set themselves the task of winning three “cup finals” ahead of their trip to Cyprus and, having accomplished the first leg of that mission, are now ready to complete the job.
They face South Africa in a friendly at Thomond Park in Limerick on Tuesday night, but minds are already turning to Italy’s trip to Dublin on October 10.
Andrews said: “We said, ’Three games left, three cup finals’. We are looking to win each game and that was the first.
“We managed to win last night. Tuesday’s is only a friendly game and there’s not as much importance as the games coming up.
“But it will be a good run-out and stand us in good stead for going into next month, when hopefully we can get both the results we require.”