Martin O’Neill faces a massive game tonight.
The Republic of Ireland host Serbia and with three games to play, a win for the visitors would all but confirm them as the automatic qualifiers from Group D.
Defeat for Martin O’Neil would mean the best they could hope for would be to outdo Wales and finish runners-up, going into the play-offs for a place in Russia next summer.
Ahead of tonight’s pivotal game, Martin O’Neill has been talking about one of the biggest threats to his team’s chances.
The former Sunderland boss says that Aleksandar Mitrovic maybe ‘divides opinion’ but that is more to do with his disciplinary problems. The striker picking up his latest club suspension due to an idiotic contact with West Ham’s Lanzini, the Newcastle striker going out of his way to connect.
However, with six goals in six qualifiers helping Serbia to top the group and be top scorers (16 goals – next best is 10 goals), Martin O’Neill says ‘he is a talented player and that talent would be my concern more than anything else’.
O’Neill insists he won’t be instructing his team to try and ‘wind’ Mitrovic up, instead relying on his defence and Ciaran Clark in particular, to deal with the striker’s threat.
An interesting contest for Newcastle fans, as well as the two nations competing, the game live on Sky Sports at 7.45pm tonight.
Group D table now looks like this:
15 Serbia (GD +9) – Played 7
13 R. of Ireland (+4) – Played 7
11 Wales (+5) – Played 7
8 Austria (0) – Played 7
4 Georgia (-4) – Played 7
2 Moldova (-14) – Played 7
“First of all, I think Mitrovic is a very talented player.
“When you say he divides opinion, that certainly might be to do with some of things he does on the pitch, maybe off ball.
“But at the end of the day, he is a talented player and that talent would be my concern more than anything else.
“I think he has proved himself a really good player but he has his moments of indiscretion.
“But if you’re asking is it something we are going to do, to wind people up, I don’t think that’s in our nature.
“We’ll just get on with the job and Ciaran (Clark), who knows him inside-out, hopefully, will be able to deal with that.”