Andrews focused on vital game

Andrews focused on vital game

Republic of Ireland midfielder Keith Andrews is hoping to take a significant step towards World Cup qualification in Cyprus on Saturday.

If Ireland can avenge their 5-2 European Championship humiliation of three years ago in Nicosia, they would be all but assured a place in the play-offs at least, a creditable achievement with reigning world champions Italy also in Group Eight.

Having drawn with the Italians in Bari in April, second place is not the sum total of the Republic’s ambition, but it would underline the step forward they have taken under manager Giovanni Trapattoni in the last 16 months or so.

Blackburn midfielder Andrews said: “It’s a massive game in its own right because of the state of the group, regardless of what happened in Cyprus the last time Ireland were there.

“We want to progress to the World Cup and a good result on Saturday will go a long way towards making that happen.

“Italy have a tough game on Saturday, away to Georgia, and then they have another tricky one at home to Bulgaria, so that’s not an easy run-in.

“So if we can win on Saturday, we can at least cement that play-off place.”

Andrews, 28, was playing his football at MK Dons the night in October 2006 that Steve Staunton’s men were dealt a major blow to their Euro 2008 hopes in Cyprus.

They could only draw in the return game as qualification went up in smoke and, although they gained revenge with a 1-0 victory at Croke Park in October to bank three of the 13 points they have collected from seven games to date, the scars remain vivid even for those who were not there.

Andrews said: “I just watched the last Ireland game in Cyprus on the TV at home, I have always been patriotic and watch all the games.

“It was one of the biggest disasters in Irish football history and it’s something that we are all aware of, even the players who weren’t there.”

Trapattoni and his players flew out of Dublin this afternoon having carried out their preparations at Malahide since meeting up on Tuesday.

Hull defender Paul McShane was added to the squad yesterday amid concern over Sean St Ledger’s knee injury, while striker Caleb Folan has been struggling with an ankle problem.

Cyprus will be without suspended duo Michael Konstantinou and Konstantinos Makridis, both key men if they are to claw back an eight-point deficit on the Irish having played one game fewer.

But Andrews saw enough at Croke Park to know they will represent a major threat.

He said: “I thought Cyprus were a good side, well organised defensively, and they will be even stronger now that they are on their home turf.”

With Andy Reid having been discarded by Trapattoni and club-mate Steven Reid fighting his way back from injury, Andrews, who has seven senior caps to his name, has had a key role to play in central midfield in recent months.

He is desperate for that to continue in Nicosia, but is taking nothing for granted.

He said: “I have started the last four or five competitive games and I won’t make any bones about it, I am hoping to start this game as well.

“I was a little bit disappointed not to start in the last game against Australia, but hopefully I can get in.”

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