Ireland experience will be vital for Estonia clash, says Holland
Former Republic of Ireland international Matt Holland is tipping Robbie Keane to fire them into Euro 2012
Matt Holland believes the Republic of Ireland’s experienced squad members will play a key role in seeing off the challenge of Estonia in the Euro 2012 play-off first leg on Friday.
Holland, capped 49 times by Ireland, expects the contribution of players such as Richard Dunne, Robbie Keane and Shay Given to be vital at the Lillekula Stadium in Tallinn.
And the former Charlton Athletic midfielder feels the Irish defence must remain watertight if they want to avoid another play-off heartbreak.
“The experience that Shay Given, Richard Dunne, Damien Duff and Robbie Keane have is vital,” Holland told The Sport Review.
“Defensively we are very strong and that is an area which Dunne and Given have played a major part in. We have only conceded one goal in the last nine games so we’re very hard to beat. And I think the experience at the back is vital for us.
“If we’re going to win against Estonia I think that’s the area where we are going to need to be at our strongest.”
Holland, who scored a memorable goal against Cameroon on the last occasion Ireland were at a major tournament in 2002, admits manager Giovanni Trapattoni is faced with a selection crisis up front.
But the 37-year-old would like to see Jonathan Walters partner Robbie Keane in attack for the trip to Estonia – and he is backing former Tottenham Hotspur forward Keane to produce the crucial goals to fire Ireland past their oppponents and into Euro 2012.
“We have got problems up front with Kevin Doyle suspended for the first leg, Shane Long being injured and Leon Best going home as well – and Robbie Keane has only got back to fitness,” he said.
“Robbie is the obvious answer to that. Someone who has over 50 international goals speaks for itself and I expect him to play, so the question is who he partners him with.
“Trapattoni likes to have someone different who runs the channels and I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes with Jonathan Walters this time.
“He was a substitute in the last game and he was impressive. He put himself about and he’s put himself in the frame. Two wide men Damien [Duff] and Aiden [McGeady] will play are very creative.”
Holland also warned Ireland against underestimating their opponents, who beat Serbia and Slovenia away from home during their qualification campaign.
But the former international feels the Men in Green have enough quality to see off Estonia over two legs.
“When the draw was made it was the draw that we all wanted,” he added. “The fact that it was the lowest ranked team in the pot. And we have the second leg at home which is a bonus.
“So all in all I think we have to be very pleased with the draw.
“[But] I don’t think we can underestimate them. They’re obviously a good side some impressive results in the group and they came second in that group so you have to give them credit for that beating Serbia and Slovenia away which suggests they are a decent side.
“But then they lost to the Faroe Islands so they have had an inconsistent campaign. I think we have the firepower and quality to beat them and I think we should be confident.
“In previous play-offs obviously we haven’t got a great record. The one we did win against Iran, we went into that one as favourites and the draw was kind to us so I’m hoping history will repeat itself this time. We have enough about us to win the game.”
Read Matt’s thoughts on the npower Championship each week in his Football League blog at www.football-league.co.uk