UEFA Europa League final ambassador Ronnie Whelan says the Republic of Ireland are overdue a return to a major international tournament, and feels that Giovanni Trapattoni's side can end that lean spell by reaching UEFA EURO 2012. The 49-year-old former Liverpool FC midfielder played for Ireland at the 1988 UEFA European Championship as well as the 1990 and 1994 FIFA World Cups, and hopes the current team can stay the course in Group B.
UEFA.com: How do you assess the Republic of Ireland at this stage in UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying?
Ronnie Whelan: Things seem to be going according to plan. We faced Russia, and Russia gave us a bit of a footballing lesson, to be fair [Russia won 3-2 in Dublin]. I think that just shows how far we are away from getting up there with the top teams. But it's a wide open group; everybody's beating everybody at this moment in time. So if you can just pull out one or two good results, go away from home and pick a win up somewhere, you've got great chance. They're still in with a great chance of topping the group, but they've got to perform, and perform better than they did against Russia. But it was better against Slovakia [1-1 in Zilina], and hopefully now they'll kick on from there.
UEFA.com: FC Spartak Moskva's Aiden McGeady is the only player in the squad who is playing outside Britain. Do you think that has made a difference to him?
Whelan: He seems to have got a lot better since he went away. I've been critical of Aiden a lot of times, only because of his end product. We know he has the skill, we've seen him go past countless people, not a problem in the world, but then his last ball usually goes over the back of the goal, or hits a defender. I think he's got better since he went away, and hopefully he can bring that now to the Irish team.
UEFA.com: How important is it for Ireland to qualify for a final tournament again?
Whelan: You saw how important it was back [at the 1988 UEFA European Championship]. It lifted everybody: the country, the players, everybody was lifted by '88. It would be lovely to go back to those times again.
UEFA.com: Ireland play the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia home and away in their next two qualifiers. What do you expect from those games?
Whelan: They won't be easy, but you would hope to pick up six points. If you pick up six points from those two games, you could be top of the group again, and then everything is looking rosy, and players are confident, and the crowd is confident, and everything could kick on from there. So six points out of those two games would be really, really big for the Republic.
©UEFA.com 1998-2013. All rights reserved.