Martin O’Neill says his Republic of Ireland side should be in “better shape” as they begin their World Cup qualifying campaign this evening.
Ireland have not qualified for a World Cup since 2002, and travel to Serbia for a tricky opening game in Group D, which also includes Wales, Moldova, Georgia and Austria.
Ireland got to the last 16 stage of Euro 2016, losing to finalists France, but O’Neill believes the quality of opposition his side have faced in the last year should stand them in good stead.
“Are we in better shape? We should be. I’m not talking about physically but mentally we should be with some of the games we’ve gone through.”
“Listen at the end of the day, during that campaign we have taken four points off Germany, the world champions. We’ve had to fight against Bosnia to get through and we’ve had some big, big matches and over the 12 games we have come through that.
There is a bit of strength coming through that and I actually think that somewhere along the way in those matches we had in France, I actually think that strength of knowing that we beat Germany and came through against Bosnia (was a help).”
Serbia failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup or Euro 2016.
O’Neill has spent much of the last week keeping a watchful eye on Everton full-back Seamus Coleman, who has not played a single minute of competitive football for his club this season because of an ankle injury.
Coleman would be one of the first names on the Ireland team sheet if he were fit – indeed, he ended the Euro 2016 finals wearing the captain’s armband – although assistant manager Roy Keane admitted on Friday that he remains a doubt.
Should he miss out, Derby counterpart Cyrus Christie would be the natural replacement.
Both teams will be depleted by suspension with Ireland defender Shane Duffy missing as a result of his red card in the 2-1 finals defeat by hosts France, while the Serbs will be without Aleksandar Kolarov and Nemanja Matic, who were both dismissed as they went down 2-1 at home to Portugal in their last Euro 2016 qualifier.
- The Republic of Ireland have never beaten Serbia in three previous encounters (D2 L1).
- Their only visit to Serbia resulted in a goalless draw in a friendly in August 2012.
- Serbia have only lost one home World Cup qualifier in their last 10, a 3-0 reverse to Belgium in October 2012 (W7 D2).
- Ireland haven’t scored in any of their last three away World Cup qualifiers, all during their World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign (Germany, Austria and Sweden).
- Serbia have lost three of their last four competitive home matches (W1).
- Ireland have only won one of their last seven games (1-0 v Italy at Euro 2016), drawing three and losing three.