Richard Dunne is keeping his fingers crossed Shay Given is fit to lay the foundation for the Republic of Ireland's big World Cup push.

The 29-year-old Manchester City defender has spent much of his international career to date playing in front of the goalkeeper, who is in line to win his 93rd senior cap against Bulgaria on Saturday.

However, having had the chance to work with the 32-year-old on a daily basis since his January move from Newcastle United to Manchester City, he knows just how important he could be for the double-header against the Bulgarians and reigning World Cup holders Italy four days later.

Given did not link up with the rest of his team-mates for training in Malahide yesterday after staying behind for treatment on a shoulder injury.

However, he is expected to arrive in Ireland today and has assured national boss Giovanni Trapattoni he will be fit to take his place in the team, and that would delight his club-mate.

Dunne said: ‘He has done really well since he has come in. I don't think anyone has really been surprised - everyone knows how good he is.

‘Obviously, he is a big loss for Newcastle - their fans and their players will know how good he was - and he has come in and just carried on.

‘He is just doing the exact same things. Just the way he walks around and the confidence he gives off has been great for everyone.’

Given has been a rock for Ireland since making his senior international debut against Russia as a teenager in March 1996, and his continued good form will have a major say in Ireland's hopes of making it to South Africa 2010.

Victory against third-placed Bulgaria, who will be without injured star striker Dimitar Berbatov, would also establish a ten-point gap between two of the sides fancied to battle it out for second place behind the Italians when the draw was made.

It might not entirely kill off new coach Stanimir Stoilov's hopes, but would go a long way towards doing so.

Dunne said: ‘We have still got to go to Italy, we have got to go to Bulgaria and we have got to go to Cyprus, so we know we have got tough games, and Bulgaria will feel they can pick up points.

‘But it will hit them hard. Just to look at the table and to be ten points behind us, it will have an effect on them, hopefully.

‘Hopefully it does put them out of it - but you never say never.’