Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni has backed his players to make a positive impact at the UEFA EURO 2012 finals after completing their play-off victory against Estonia.
Having won 4-0 in Estonia on Friday, a 1-1 draw at the Dublin Arena made sure that Ireland ended their decade-long wait to reach a major finals – and a 24-year gap from their only previous EURO qualification in 1988. Trapattoni, who has now lost just two qualifiers in 24 outings at the Ireland helm, says the Republic will travel to Poland and Ukraine full of "belief".
"I am sure we can go to Euro 2012 and be very confident in our play," he said. "We have belief and a good mentality. We have also shown we can compete against bigger nations. What is our ambition in next summer's tournament? Never say never. That is what I say. We have good options in the team."
When asked if the Republic can repeat the kind of shock Greece produced in winning UEFA EURO 2004 – when he himself was at Italy coach – Trapattoni said: "Why not? It's not a dream. We will need 100% commitment, but why not?"
The European Champion Clubs' Cup-winning former Juventus coach also spoke of his pride at ending Ireland's absence from the big stage. "I know what this means to the country," said Trapattoni. "I am very proud for the players and our supporters. I know the Irish people wished for this and I am very happy we have achieved that dream for them.
"We had a very difficult group and we have qualified, so I am very pleased. The players have belief in our system and formation and we have achieved our objective."
Ireland captain Robbie Keane, who scored twice in the first leg to lift his international tally to 53, hailed qualification as "a moment to cherish". The 2002 World Cup veteran said: "To captain the side and qualify for a major tournament in Dublin is probably my greatest moment in an Ireland shirt. Credit to all the lads - we totally deserved it. We can look forward to the finals now and I'm sure we can go there and make an impact."
Goalkeeper Shay Given, who won his 120th cap against Estonia as Ireland beat a European side to win a play-off for the first time, added: "To seal qualification in Dublin is very special. It has been a long campaign, but hopefully this gives the country a lift. We can look forward to next summer now. I have no doubt we'll shake up a few teams at the finals, that's for sure."
It was the only time Estonia had even made a play-off, and coach Tarmo Rüütli praised his players for showing their "true qualities" on a night when Konstantin Vassiljev's long range shot cancelled out Stephen Ward's first-half opener to secure a share of the spoils. "The first leg was a big disappointment, but we played to our real level in this game," said Rüütli.
"We wanted to prove we were better and can play at a higher level. I think we did that. This is the first time Estonia has played at such a high level, so we can look at this campaign as a success."
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