Republic of Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni has warned his players the hard work starts now after seeing them climb to the top of Euro 2012 qualifying Group B.
Tonight’s 3-1 victory over Andorra at the Aviva Stadium, coupled with Friday’s 1-0 win in Armenia, left the Republic with six points, the same as Slovakia, who claimed a famous away win against favourites Russia earlier this evening.
However, despite his side leading the group on goal difference from the Slovakians, Trapattoni know the tougher tests will start next month.
Ireland face Russia in Dublin and then travel to Slovakia in October for double-header which could have a major say in their destiny.
Trapattoni said: “We can take confidence now. We have started the campaign and we are top of the table.
“It is not my habit to under-estimate teams like Macedonia, for example, but I think Slovakia and Russia will be our main competition.
“We have six points, like Slovakia, but now we have to look to next month. The competition starts now.”
There was surprise in Dublin as news of Russia’s 1-0 defeat in Moscow filtered through, although Trapattoni admitted it was no shock to him.
He said: “It is not a surprise for me. I think Slovakia will be a strong team, like Russia. Those two teams will be the competition for us for first place.”
The Republic got off to the perfect start when Kevin Kilbane headed them in front with just 14 minutes gone, his eighth senior international goal in his 106th appearance.
Kevin Doyle’s 40th-minute piledriver looked to have wrapped up the points until midfielder Christian Martinez stunned Shay Given with a sweetly-struck half-volley five minutes later.
However, Robbie Keane took his tally for Ireland to 44 nine minutes after the break when he finished off a flowing move engineered by the impressive Aiden McGeady, and the points were safe.
Trapattoni said: “I am glad not only with the result, but I am glad because the team understood what I wanted them to do.
“I spoke to them about playing with enthusiasm and personality and looking immediately to score a goal.
“We had an opportunity to do that and then Kevin Doyle scored a beautiful goal, a fantastic goal. It was just a pity we conceded straight away.
“They had one shot and it went in the top corner, but that’s football. We had a good reaction and we made sure of the victory.
“Now the team is playing the way I want it to. We can play good football and when there are difficult situations, we defend those situations.
“There were 10 minutes in the first half when Andorra were better than us, but the team had the right mentality. They wanted to win.
“But now we must continue.”
Trapattoni was particularly pleased for Keane, who passed up a series of opportunities to edge closer to the 50-goal barrier in Armenia, and celebrated accordingly after finding the back of the net tonight.
The Italian said: “He had opportunities in last game – he hit the post and had other possibilities to score a goal, and he also should have had a penalty.
“For a striker, it is important to score goals and I am happy for him because it is not easy. He and Kevin Doyle worked very hard and after an hour, they were a little bit tired after the battle in Armenia.”