Winger Aiden McGeady is expecting "a very tough game" when his Republic of Ireland team host the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying on Saturday.
Ireland may be second in Group B, two points short of Russia, yet with Armenia and Slovakia just behind them on goal difference, McGeady knows his side can take nothing for granted when they contest the first of back-to-back matches against FYROM.
"Every qualifying game is a tough game," said the FC Spartak Moskva attacker, ever-present in Ireland's campaign so far. "It's a very, very tight group. Before, you would have thought Armenia are a team you'd expect to beat, but we beat them in the first game and everyone was saying it was a bad result because we only won 1-0. And now Armenia have got a lot of points and they've climbed the table next to us, so Macedonia is going to be a tough game."
The former Celtic FC prodigy is determined that Ireland get back to winning ways, having drawn 1-1 in Slovakia in their most recent outing and lost 3-2 at home to Russia before that. "It's important for us now to start. After the bad results against Russia and Slovakia, we really have to build on this," he said. "[It was] a bit of luck that results went our way, it's sort of put us in a good position, so we have to build on that."
Russia remain the biggest obstacle to Irish hopes of an automatic ticket to Poland and Ukraine – and, having moved to Moscow last summer, McGeady is well placed to judge Ireland's chances of overtaking the group leaders in their six concluding games.
"They're probably the team most expected to go through," said the 24-year-old Glaswegian. "They probably have the strongest squad out of everyone. I'd imagine everyone expects them to go through, but it's down to us and the other teams to make sure that, regardless of whether they go through or not, it's ourselves going through too."
Whatever happens between now and then, Ireland's September trip to Russia is likely to be a high-stakes encounter for both countries in the race for top spot. Given his privileged position, McGeady will be happy to share his knowledge with boss Giovanni Trapattoni.
"He's a very experienced coach, so I'm not 100% sure he'll take my opinions into consideration, but if he wants to know things of course I'll tell him," said McGeady. "But he's the type of coach that'll probably know more than me. He'll have people watching games and players."
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