The Republic of Ireland face Austria in a potentially pivotal World Cup Qualifier in Dublin on Sunday, live on Sky Sports 1 HD from 4.30pm.
Victory would leave Martin O’Neill’s side seven points ahead of Austria with just four games to play, and while O’Neill is well aware of what is at stake, he knows his team will have to perform to their best to get a result against Marcel Koller’s side.
„Obviously it’s a big three points for both countries, it really is very, very big,“ he said. „Now we’ve crossed the halfway stage, tomorrow starts the second half of the tournament for us, and we just have to try to grab these points. Every point is as important as the ones before.
„We just have to try to do our utmost. If we have done our utmost, then there is not much more I can ask.
„I don’t think that we’ve got the ability to carry players in the team. We have to really be at it all the time, and that’s one of our strengths, I think. But if we drop off… We just can’t afford to do that, let me put it that way.“
O’Neill’s men remain unbeaten in the campaign and returned from Austria in November with three precious points, courtesy of James McClean’s lone strike. Victory this weekend would significantly increase their prospects of claiming one of the top two berths in Group D.
Strikers Shane Long and David McGoldrick will miss the clash against Austria as will Seamus Coleman, who suffered a horrendous double leg fracture against Wales in March
Cyrus Christie is set to deputise for the Everton full-back, while Jonathan Walters seems likely to get the nod in attack
Meanwhile, Koller is set to be without several key men for the trip to Dublin.
Red Bull Salzburg defender Andreas Ulmer is getting married this weekend and will miss the clash, while Marko Arnautovic and Stefan Ilsanker are suspended.
Marc Janko and Marcel Sabitzer will miss the game through injury.
The Republic of Ireland’s 1-0 win in Austria in November was their only previous away victory over them on the international stage.
The last time the Republic of Ireland hosted Austria was in March 2013, a 2-2 draw at the Aviva Stadium with Jonathan Walters scoring twice.
James McClean has scored each of the Republic of Ireland’s last three goals in qualifying.
Heading into this round of fixtures, only Cristiano Ronaldo (38) and Josip Ilicic (26) have had more shots than McClean (24) in qualifying so far.
David Alaba has created more chances than any other Austrian player so far in qualifying (15), with three of those leading to assists.
Martin O’Neill is yet to lose a home qualifying match as national team manager of the Republic of Ireland (W5 D3).
In fact, the Boys in Green haven’t conceded a goal in any of their last five home qualifiers.
Only Slovakia (29y 96d) and Moldova (29y 118d) have named an older starting line-up on average than the Republic of Ireland in this qualifying campaign (29y 54d).
Charlie Nicholas’ prediction
Martin O’Neill has brought in his experienced players and they produced a decent performance to beat Uruguay in preparation for this key game.
They’re not generally that impressive to watch but they are a good unit and are good at grinding out results at home.
Charlie predicts: 1-0 and Jeff Hendrick to score first