Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni is convinced his side can qualify for the 2010 World Cup finals.
The 69-year-old guided Ireland to their first international victory since August last year when they beat Colombia 1-0 at Craven Cottage last night in his second game at the helm.
He will now have just one more friendly – in Norway in August – to finalise his preparation for a tough qualifying campaign, which kicks off with an away double in Georgia and Montenegro the following month.
However, having put his players through their paces over the last fortnight in Portugal, Dublin and London, the Italian believes there is no reason why they cannot end their wait to reach the finals of a major tournament for the first time since 2002.
Trapattoni, whose side drew 1-1 with Serbia in his first game on Saturday evening, said: “I know Croatia, and Serbia is not a long way off Croatia.
“With that mentality and condition, psychological and physical, why not? Why not?
“England on Wednesday, the first goal was scored from a free-kick through John Terry. Football today is about corners, free-kicks, set-pieces.
“With that mentality and condition, we have a good team. Two or three young players give us more strength and power, like [Liam] Miller and [Glenn] Whelan in midfield. They are not superstars, but they are very, very important in our midfield.
“Yes, we have Italy in our group and there are one or two stars who can score a goal from nothing.
“But it is never easy. It is about the moment in international football, one goal or missing one or two important players makes a big team like all the other teams.
“Not every team has a (Cristiano) Ronaldo who makes the difference.”
Trapattoni declared himself delighted with his first two weeks working with the players he hopes will take Ireland to South Africa as he belatedly sent them off on their summer holiday.
He did so, however, having given each of them something to work on when they return to their clubs.
He said: “I have written for each of our players, ’you need to do that, you need to improve this situation’.
“Sure, they will play like their coaches want them to, but they also have the possibility to improve because I have said to them, ’do that, that, that’.
“It is only a case of 10 or 15 minutes at the end of training. They are little details, but the little details are very important.
“They are training, I know, but 10 minutes more is enough for them to grow.
“I have written advice for all of them: ’It is important for you that, it is important for you that, it is important for you that. Congratulations on your time with us, but this is important.”’
In an ideal world, Trapattoni admits he would like to be able to get his players together in between matches to reinforce what he is trying to coach into them, although he admits that could prove problematical.
He said: “Before I came in here, I asked the Federation if it was possible to have some time on a Wednesday or Thursday, for example, to meet the players.
“In the past in Italy, it was possible under Arrigo Sacchi and it was very important because the players go back and play how their clubs want them to play.
“I asked and the answer is that it will be very difficult with the clubs in England.
“Ireland maybe was easy, but lots of the players play in England and it is not easy for them to let the players go to Ireland for training.
“We will try. If it is possible, it will be very important.”
Meanwhile, Trapattoni will wait for answers from self-exiled trio Stephen Ireland, Andy O’Brien and Steve Finnan over their possible returns to international football.
The Italian met the three men in Manchester earlier this month but is still awaiting answers.
He said: “Many stars in other sports – Diego Maradona went and came back, the boxer Mike Tyson after six months had another life outside sport and did not come back immediately.
“I think, why am I again here? I love football, I cannot stay without football. I could not have two months without football.
“The players who say at the moment, ’no, I am staying at home’, I am sure in the future when Ireland are playing well and have success, they will think, ’maybe I will come back’.”