Football/Soccer

Callum O'Dowda handed Republic of Ireland start for crunch clash against Moldova

Bristol City winger Callum O'Dowda could be an ace up Martin O'Neill's sleeve against Moldova 
Damian Spellman

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Martin O'Neill has handed Callum O'Dowda a first competitive start as the Republic of Ireland headed into their must-win World Cup qualifier against Moldova.

The 22-year-old Bristol City winger was one of three changes to the side which lost for the first time in Group D to Serbia last month as he, Jeff Hendrick and Daryl Murphy replaced suspended duo Robbie Brady and James McClean and the injured Jonathan Walters.

Moldova boss Igor Dobrovolski also made three changes to the side which started the 2-0 home defeat by Wales, as Petru Racu, Alexandru Gatcan and Sergiu Platica replaced Dinu Graur, Veaceslav Posmac and Alexandru Pascenco.

Earlier Martin O'Neill said he still expects Roy Keane to return to management in his own right one day as the pair look to lead the Republic of Ireland to next summer's World Cup and beyond.

The Football Association of Ireland announced on Thursday that the 65-year-old and his assistant had agreed new contracts that will see them remain in charge for the 2020 European Championships qualification campaign.

However, O'Neill, who guided the nation to the finals of Euro 2016, knows ambition still burns brightly within the former Republic and Manchester United captain.

Speaking on the eve of Ireland's penultimate World Cup qualifier against Moldova in Dublin, the manager said: "Roy is obviously his own man and I've never shied away from this, that at some stage or other he will manage again. He wants to manage on his own.

"I think that's right, and I think that the time with myself and the Ireland squad has been really good for him.

"I was nearly going to say that he's mellowed, but he's certainly not done that at all. In fact, he might have got worse!

"But he's been excellent for me, I must admit, he's been excellent in the dressing room and I actually think he's enjoying it here, too.

"Whatever decision we come to, I think he would be happy to go along with it. But I think at some stage or other, he will step into management himself."

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