By Patrick Hart
The Republic of Ireland will bid for a second UEFA EURO 2004™ qualifying victory in five days when Georgia visit Lansdowne Road for Wednesday's Group 10 match.
Brian Kerr's side gained more than a 2-1 win in Dublin when Albanian defender Ardian Aliaj put through his own goal late on Saturday afternoon; they also secured a foothold in a group that was threatening to slip away from them. And with leaders Switzerland facing the lively Albanians in Wednesday's other game, the Republic will look to increase the pressure at the top of the table.
'Back in contention'
Irish midfield player Steven Reid told uefa.com: "I think we've put ourselves back in contention. The Albania result may have been fortunate but we got the result we needed and that gives everyone confidence going into the Georgia game, which is another must-win [game] for us."
The victory put Ireland on seven points, two behind the Swiss but level with Russia who are in second place. It also extended Kerr's unbeaten run to five matches since he replaced Mick McCarthy in January. The memories of autumn defeats by Switzerland and Russia are fading fast, Reid said.
'Down to earth'
We have regained our confidence and are playing close to potential again. Perhaps we were a little complacent against Russia and Switzerland and they brought us back down to earth with a bump. Now a win could send us top, depending on what happens in the Switzerland and Albania game, and that's a huge incentive for us."
Ringing the changes
Reid, a second-half substitute against Albania, could replace Damien Duff against Georgia if the winger fails to recover from a hamstring problem. Whatever, manager Kerr has promised changes. Lee Carsley could replace Mark Kinsella in midfield, while Gary Doherty offers an alternative to David Connolly in attack.
Georgia are also buoyed by recent success - the 1-0 home win against Russia in April. But if they are to add to that solitary group triumph, Ivo Susak's team must overcome the handicap of five missing players. Captain Georgi Nemsadze joins Davit Kvirkvelia, Levan Tskitishvili and Levan Kobiashvili on the injured list, while striker Micheil Ashvetia is suspended.
Dreaming for Georgia
However, Susak, who will hand the captain's armband to AC Milan's Kakha Kaladze, is confident of adding to the team's four-point haul. "
The Russia match showed our character," he said. "If we continue to play to our potential this team can achieve their goals."
Another coach with high hopes is Hans-Peter Briegel. His Albania side will look to make amends for the Dublin defeat against the Swiss in Geneva. "Our aim had been to get two points from our two games," Briegel said. "But if we win in Switzerland, we will still be in a good position to qualify."
Change of luck
Following Aliaj's last-gasp own goal, Albania need a change of luck, and Briegel may have got one after it emerged that defender Geri Çipi would not be banned, as first thought, for his booking against Ireland. However, substitute goalkeeper Arian Beqaj is on standby after No1 Foto Strakosha picked up an injury on Saturday.
'A tough game'
Not that Switzerland will take anything for granted at the Stade de Genève. "Albania beat Russia and challenged Ireland in Dublin, so I'm expecting a tough game," said coach Jakob Kuhn, whose midfield player Patrick Müller is suspended.
None the less, three points will be the only item on the docket for Kuhn's team after they surrendered a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at home against Russia on Saturday. Defender Stéphane Henchoz said: "Although it isn't the end of the world that we took a point against Russia, we must win this one."
Additional reporting by Pawel Dimow
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