Football/Soccer

We would have qualified for World Cup with a fit Seamus Coleman says Republic of Ireland boss Martin O'Neill

Republic of Ireland captain Seamus Coleman is back on the competitive stage in Cardiff tonight
From Brendan Crossan in Cardiff

Uefa Nations League Group B4: Wales v Republic of Ireland (tonight, Cardiff City, 7.45pm)

MARTIN O’Neill declared the Republic of Ireland would have qualified for last summer’s World Cup finals in Russia had Seamus Coleman been fit.

Speaking ahead of tonight’s Nations League opener with Wales, O’Neill paid his captain the highest possible compliment and described the Killybegs man as “world class”.

Coleman makes his competitive return to international action in Cardiff tonight after recovering from a horrific double leg fracture sustained against the Welsh back in March 2017.

Sitting side-by-side at last night’s pre-match press conference, O’Neill said of his captain: “I personally think that if he had stayed fit for the games we would have taken our place for the games in Russia. I can’t pay him a higher compliment than that.

“He’s been top class. Actually, remarkably for a quiet young man, he’s a vociferous captain, let’s you know. A really top player, a world class player.”

Meanwhile, the Ireland manager insisted UEFA might have to step in to help resolve the Denmark dispute that threatens to create a dangerous imbalance in Ireland’s Nations Cup group.

The Danish players are in a contractual dispute with their FA over commercial rights and insist they won’t play against Wales on Sunday.

The Danish FA may be forced to field an uncapped scratch side consisting of third-tier and futsal players, the latter being an indoor five-a-side game played with a harder and smaller ball.

It would mean Wales's passage through the Nations Cup would be significantly easier with the Republic almost certain to face a much stronger Danish team in November.

“Do you know what?” said O’Neill. “I think they [Uefa] probably will [have to intervene] if that's the case and it develops in the direction it looks to be going.

“We'll just have to wait to see on what develops. If that would happen, it would reflect badly on the competition itself.

“I genuinely don't know enough about the situation. On the face of it, it would seem quite strange.”

The Republic are missing a contingent of key players ahead of tonight’s return to Cardiff, where they bagged a 1-0 win 11 months ago to knock their hosts out of World Cup contention.

Robbie Brady, James McCarthy, James McClean, Shane Long, Harry Arter, Scott Hogan and Sean Maguire are missing while John O’Shea, Daryl Murphy and Wes Hoolahan have retired from international football.

Given the stretched nature of the Irish squad O’Neill may be forced to promote a couple of rookie players against the Welsh.

“In terms of the retirements there were a number who were going to be leaving anyway,” O’Neill said, “and certainly would have done so even if we had qualified for the World Cup.

“John [O’Shea] is gone; some influential players have gone – there’s no question about that. We are a little bit stretched but I think that’s a challenge for us now, a proper challenge.

“But I have a world class player beside me here [Coleman] and we have a number of quality players.

“Anybody who comes in who mightn’t be as experienced as the other lads will have to really step up to it. This is international football. It’s high calibre and we have to deal with those situations.”

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