Republic of Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni declared tomorrow’s match against Russia the moment when their Euro 2012 campaign really kicks into gear.
The Republic already have six points on the board courtesy of wins over Armenia and Andorra but tomorrow’s clash in Dublin and Tuesday’s trip to Slovakia should go a long way to determining whether they can reach a major finals for the first time in a decade.
Trapattoni said: “We should be optimistic about claiming four points (from the two games), which would allow us to stay at the top of the table.
“The way the qualification works, it’s very long and tomorrow is the start of the more important phase. We will play against one of the most famous international teams.
“Most of their players play every week for the same teams, Zenit St Petersburg and CSKA Moscow, and that is a great advantage.
“But I have reasons to be positive because we are building a very good team. We are happy with our mentality and how our players play the game. We can play well but more important is the result.”
After losing Damien Duff to a calf injury earlier this week, Trapattoni was able to report good news on that front today with Richard Dunne returning to training following a knee problem.
And the Italian duly named the centre-back in an unchanged starting line-up from the win over Andorra.
“Richard trained this morning and hopefully he will be okay, and that is good news for us,” added Trapattoni.
Dunne’s importance to the side was stressed by captain Robbie Keane, who said: “Richard is one of our key players and he’s been instrumental in the 10 years he’s been involved in the Irish side. He’s grown and grown and become an absolutely vital player.”
Russia began the campaign as favourites to win Group B but they suffered an early blow when they were beaten at home by Slovakia last month.
But Dick Advocaat’s squad possesses undoubted quality, with Arsenal forward Andrey Arshavin considered one of the main dangermen at the Aviva Stadium.
Trapattoni is well aware of the mercurial Russian’s talents but is confident the discipline of his players will ensure they deal with the threat.
He said: “Our team is solid, we have a good balance and I’m sure we can cope with Arshavin. We have to be sharp and immediately pick up where he’s playing. Sometimes he plays on the right, sometimes on the left, sometimes as second striker.
“But we know Arshavin, and it’s not only Arshavin. They have many other strong midfielders and (striker Pavel) Pogrebnyak is also a star.”
The victory over Andorra was the first competitive outing at the newly-developed Lansdowne Road ground for the Republic, and there have been concerns about crowd safety.
Last Saturday’s Magners League rugby game between Leinster and Munster resulted in heavy congestion at the end of the match but Football Association of Ireland chief executive John Delaney put the problems down to a specific issue with barriers not being taken down.
He said: “I had a meeting with the stadium director on Monday. We have a huge crowd coming. We are sold out bar a small number of tickets we’ve had back from the Russians.
“There are always going to be issues getting 51,000 people in and out and we should be listening to the public’s concerns. I’m happy we have a good stadium in place and the stadium company are learning.”