Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill was quick to play down his side’s favourites tag ahead of today’s World Cup qualifier against Austria at the Aviva Stadium, (kick-off 5.0pm).
O’Neill’s trusty assistant Roy Keane, meanwhile, said that Ireland would have to go to war to beat their Group D opponents, who are coming to Dublin confident of exacting revenge for their 1-0 defeat to Ireland in Vienna last November.
The Ireland management team would rather play role of underdog in such important fixtures and perhaps felt an air of expectation reaching levels that they were not comfortable with going into this vital encounter.
Of course, Ireland come into this fixture four points clear of today’s opponents at the half-way stage of the qualifying campaign, and coupled with the fact that Austria are missing key players and that they are playing in front of their own vociferous support at a capacity Lansdowne Road venue, there is perhaps no need for such caution.
There is method to the manager’s vigilance, however, as Austria are a wounded animal and come to Ireland in search of victory, and should also be prepared to "go to war" for a win that will get them back on track to qualify for next year’s World Cup.
Ireland enjoyed a well-earned victory in Vienna, but it was far from facile as James McClean’s strike decided the game, when both sides had ample opportunities to win the game.
Austria are missing a host of quality players, most notably Marko Arnautovic, however, they also have key players returning to action so they will be far from weakened as they take the field later today.
Ireland’s immediate quest will be to ensure that Austria remain four points behind them at the final whistle, however, O’Neill has also promised to send his side out on the front foot in their bid to take all three points.
The first twenty minutes will be crucial to the outcome of this game as the expected Austrian threat needs to be neutralised before Ireland can go in search of the goals to settle the game.
"Going to war" is part of the job description for anyone that dons the green jersey, but there should be just as much emphasis on discipline and concentration, especially in those opening exchanges.
Austria may be confident coming to Dublin, but they are also well aware of what is in store for them in terms of a physical battle and there is a sense that they really cannot compete with that relentless Irish attitude.
Marcel Koller’s side will aspire and endeavour to win the match by playing their own brand of football, which is perhaps a little more aesthetic than the Irish approach.
But if their attitude and application fades through frustration, this Irish team will match their brand of ball-playing and end their hopes of reaching Russia.
Austria 0-1 Ireland – A quick recap
Ireland left Vienna with all three points thanks to a James McClean goal and, while it was far from a smash and grab victory, the home side probably felt like they should have secured a point from the match.
Austria started at break-neck speed and were in on goal in the opening minute, while Ireland defended very well for the opening 15 minutes to ease the pressure of a confident side playing in front of a passionate crowd at the packed Ernst-Happel-Stadion.
And the home side should really have opened the scoring when Marcel Sabitzer clipped a fine effort onto the crossbar in the first half, but it was Ireland who took the lead early in the second period.
A swift counter-attack led by David Meyler who fed playmaker Wes Hoolahan in the middle of the park.
Quick thinking and the perfect pass followed as McClean was sent galloping through, coming in from the left flank, and the Derry man made no mistake with a fine strike to grab what turned out to be the winning goal as Ireland recorded their first ever win away in Vienna.
The right role for Brady
Has Martin O’Neill finally cracked the Robbie Brady role for Ireland?
The hero of Lille has played in every position asked of him by the Ireland manager, which has included several games at left back, with many more in differing midfield positions.
But the Burnley man was utilised last Sunday on the right side of a three-man attack, playing behind a lone front-man, and the naturally left-sided player looked equally adept in that wide right role.
In fact, the entire Ireland team looked very solid with the formation, where the two holding midfielders Glenn Whelan and Harry Arter allowed the front four to attack and create.
Brady’s role in the team is already instrumental with his precision from the set-piece and his delivery into the dangerous areas, and now the Dubliner has licence to drift in from the right flank, which should also open up more attempts at goal.
A captain’s shift for Walters
Jonathan Walters is the right man to be granted the captain’s armband while Seamus Coleman recovers from that horrible leg break suffered in the match against Wales.
The Stoke City striker proved Ireland’s inspiration on the road to qualification for Euro 2016, and while Walters has been an ever-present in the starting XI throughout this campaign, his performances have not been as inspirational.
A lot is asked of Walters when he lines out for Ireland, especially when he is named out on the right flank, with an added responsibility of causing a nuisance up front to help out when Shane Long is leading the attack.
But Walters will surely start in that lone attacking position and the added responsibility this time will be that as captain – a role in which he should shine.
That armband should help Walters to once again be the catalyst in the side, and while there is a good chance that the Stoke man will have three centre-halves to occupy, you can imagine that they will not have an easy night at the office.
Walters will run himself into the ground against that Austria defence and will probably share the role on a 60:30 or 70:20 basis with fellow front-man Daryl Murphy.
O’Neill set to stay loyal to his goalkeeper
With Ireland remaining unbeaten in the qualifying group and sharing top spot with Serbia on 11 points from five games, there is not too much to question the manager on regarding his team selection or results.
But column inches must be filled and questions asked, so the theme of the week focused on the battle for the number one jersey between current custodian Darren Randolph and Keiren Westwood, who has been in excellent form at Sheffield Wednesday for the past two seasons.
Randolph’s club form suffered at the end of the season and his mis-timed attempt to clear the ball, which led to Uruguay’s goal last Sunday, has made him fair game for the media to ponder what the manager is thinking regarding that vital position.
O’Neill appeared happy to deflect the questions all week, but despite Westwood coming on and playing well in the second half against Uruguay, there is little to suggest that the manager will do anything other than name Randolph in goal to face Austria.
The manager deals in loyalty and it would really take a much bigger blunder to oust his number one. So while Randolph should start, the new season ahead could change the manager’s thinking for the September internationals should club careers continue to affect form.
The Hoolahan factor – impact role likely for Wes
Wes Hoolahan will, no doubt, have a role to play at the Aviva against Austria, however, there is every chance that the Norwich play-maker will have to make an impact as a substitute.
Martin O’Neill has stressed that his side will play on the front foot against Austria, but the manager is likely to start Jeff Hendrick in that supporting role to the striker, with more emphasis on a solid midfield against an attack-minded Austria.
O’Neill’s side will most likely be defending a bit deeper in the opening exchanges of this World Cup qualifier as Austria go for broke in a game that they must win and the Ireland manager will fancy his chances of weathering that early storm.
The manager is adamant that the points differential between the two sides remains at four points, at least, going into the final four games, but should Ireland manage to contain and frustrate Austria, then O’Neill’s men should proceed to play that front-foot football in an attempt to take all three points.
If the scores remain level at half-time, expect Hoolahan to be sprung from the bench early in the second half and perhaps this time, that is the right call from O’Neill, allowing the former Shelbourne man to orchestrate a fitting finale ahead of the summer break.
McClean – Man of the moment in the green jersey
There are few – if any – footballers who would use their day off from a busy international week to make the 500-kilometre round-trip home to Derry just to cast their vote in the general election.
But James McClean is not your typical footballer.
The passionate Derry man was simmering below the automatic choices in manager Martin O’Neill’s starting XI, but that night in Lille, followed by several excellent performances since have cemented the West Brom winger in the first team and confirmed his status as fans’ favourite.
Scoring the winning goal in Vienna showed that there was more to his ever-improving game, and the former Derry City midfielder has taken on the role of talisman, held by Jonathan Walters in the last campaign.
O’Neill appeared anxious to work McClean into the team, but his attempts to play his fellow Oak Leafer in a striker’s role, or as a left wing-back in the recent Mexico friendly defeat failed to bear fruit.
McClean will play in his familiar – and possibly only effective – left wing position and will once again look to punish Austria down that flank.
And with Austria set to attack from the start at the Aviva later today, a counter-attacking McClean bombing down the left wing may just inflict some more damage on the visitors’ chances.
Ireland XI (possible): Randolph; Christie, Duffy, Keogh, Ward; Whelan, Arter, Hendrick, McClean, Brady; Walters.