Martin O’Neill has urged the Republic of Ireland’s critics not to forget their heroics in France as they attempt to book a trip to another major tournament.
Ireland laboured to an unconvincing 1-0 World Cup qualifying win over Georgia at the Aviva Stadium on Thursday to leave themselves level on points with Wales, Serbia and Austria in Group D.
However, while O’Neill’s detractors have turned out in force in the wake of a performance which even the manager admitted was not up to scratch, particularly in the first half, he has reminded them that it is only a matter of months since his team was mixing with Europe’s best at Euro 2016.
Speaking at his pre-match press conference ahead of Sunday’s clash with Moldova in Chisinau, the 64-year-old said: “We’re not the type of team that is going to wipe the floor with people, we have to fight for everything, we know that ourselves and tomorrow night will be a big test again for us.
“It’s not a case for raising ourselves against the best opposition. Everybody goes through these periods, even teams like, for instance, Portugal.
“Portugal won the competition, went out and then lost to Switzerland. Things like this happen.
“We have to try to raise ourselves again for this. It’s a big game for us and obviously the result is the most important thing.
“We can play better, we know that - we did this in France. It’s only a couple of months ago since we played brilliantly against Sweden and brilliantly against Italy, beating Italy - and we should have beaten Sweden in the game.
“For a long period, we had France, you would have to say they were extremely concerned about us as a team that went on to the final in their own stadium.
“Those are a couple of months ago. We have played two games in this: we have gone to Serbia and drawn against Serbia, a top-class side, and we haven’t played very well at home in a game, and that can happen.
“These things are forgotten about.”
On paper at least, Ireland should add another three points to their tally in Moldova, who are ranked 130 places below them by FIFA.
Igor Dobrovolski’s men have lost 4-0 in Wales and 3-0 at home to Serbia in their opening two fixtures, but O’Neill, while welcoming increased expectation, is taking nothing for granted as he anticipates potential pitfalls.
Asked if he had targeted seven points from the first nine on offer, he said: “The games are hard, they are really hard matches - you have known that there for 25 years.
“These games are tough, they are really tough matches for us, they are tough. You are talking about top-level football, so it’s going to be hard for us. I hadn’t targeted that at all.
“There has been a togetherness that we’ve had over the last few seasons. We did qualify for a competition and now the expectation is high - that’s good, I’m pleased with it.
“I’m delighted with the expectation being high and we have to try to live up to that ourselves.”
O’Neill’s task at the Stadionul Zimbru will be complicated by the absence of Jeff Hendrick through suspension and Robbie Brady because of injury, but he is confident he has the players to plug a sizeable gap.
He said: “It will be a blow for us, the two of them out at the same time. But that’s the way it goes, so we have other players to come in and hopefully they will fill those gaps for us and go and perform.”