Giovanni Trapattoni has warned his Republic of Ireland players they can take nothing for granted as they prepare for their Euro 2012 showdown with Estonia.
Ireland head into the two-legged play-off in Tallinn on Friday evening and then four days later at the Aviva Stadium as favourites despite having won only one of their six previous shoot-outs.
That is a measure of the strides the team has taken under Trapattoni, but as he plots a way past the Estonians in meticulous detail, the wily Italian is leaving nothing to chance.
He said: “In these games, we have a great opportunity, but we are also aware that we are facing a team that has very good organisation on the pitch and we should not under-estimate them.
“We will have to show our pride. I am proud of our team and it will be very important for us to show all the Irish people our quality, our mentality and our attitude.
“Only with this attitude, we can get over these 180 minutes and achieve qualification.”
Ireland’s five play-off defeats to date have all come at the hands of European opposition with Spain, Holland, Turkey, Belgium and France getting the better of them, with a lone victory over Iran taking Mick McCarthy’s side to the 2002 World Cup finals.
However, favouritism does not sit well with Trapattoni, who arrived at his opening press conference armed with an apposite phrase.
Referring to a note he had made earlier, he said: “It’s important we don’t jump the gun. Be careful of the cat. Don’t say you have the cat in the sack when you don’t have the cat in the sack.
“Why should we be superior? They [Estonia] have played many, many games and they have achieved good results against strong teams. Their philosophy as a group is very strong, their discipline and their mentality.”
Trapattoni has spent days poring over DVDs of the Estonians and will use the time before his squad heads out to Tallinn on Thursday drilling his players on the fine detail of his plan to beat them.
He said: “We need to have patience. We must prepare every little detail because with these little details, we can achieve this result.”
Trapattoni was tonight still awaiting news of Newcastle striker Leon Best, who was due to undergo a scan on a groin injury on Tyneside before a decision was taken on whether or not he would join up with the rest of the squad.
Shane Long and Liam Lawrence have already been ruled out by injury, while John O’Shea will definitely miss the first game, but could make the return at the Aviva Stadium as he battles a hamstring problem.
However, skipper Robbie Keane and winger Aiden McGeady are on their way to Ireland after their weekend commitments with LA Galaxy and Spartak Moscow respectively, with the striker’s anticipated arrival in particular a major boost.
The 31-year-old, who has scored a record 51 goals for his country, missed the final qualifier against Armenia because of an adductor muscle injury which at the time left him touch and go for the play-off.
However, Keane confirmed his return to both fitness and form with a goal in Galaxy’s 3-1 MLS Cup semi-final defeat of Real Salt Lake at the weekend, much to Trapattoni’s delight.
Asked if he was surprised at the striker’s swift recovery, he said: “I am not surprised because it was not a bad injury, thank God.
“It was important when he didn’t play [against Armenia]. I said to him, ’You are the doctor yourself’, and Robbie said, ’It’s better I don’t play and maybe I can play in this situation’.”
Keane’s availability represents a massive bonus for Ireland with Kevin Doyle suspended following his sending-off against the Armenians and the injuries to Long and Best.
That means there is a vacancy alongside the captain for the first game, and while West Brom’s Simon Cox got the nod against Armenia, Trapattoni has hinted that the physical presence of Stoke’s Jonathan Walters could suit the latest challenge for his team.
He said: “Cox is a little bit the same as Robbie. Walters is different. He’s not like Doyle, but in that position, he is maybe similar.”
Stephen Kelly is likely to fill in for O’Shea at right-back.