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Republic of Ireland: Martin O’Neill defends team before Moldova qualifier

Martin O'Neill must plan for Moldova without the injured Robbie Brady

Martin O’Neill says his side “must live up to” high levels of expectation

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill has told his team’s critics not to forget his side’s heroics during Euro 2016 in France as they try to book a trip to another major tournament.

The Irish laboured to an unconvincing 1-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Georgia on Thursday and face Moldova in Chisnau on Sunday (19:45 BST).

“It’s not a case of raising ourselves against better opposition,” he said.

“We can play better, we know that – we did this in France.”

The Republic lie level on points with Wales, Serbia and Austria in Group D after a performance against the Georgians which the manager admitted was not up to scratch, particularly in the first half.

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The former Celtic boss says that it is only a matter of months since his team was mixing with Europe’s best at Euro 2016.

“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.

“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.”

O’Neill points to Euro 2016 performances

The Irish performed well in France in the summer, reaching the last 16 by beating Italy in their final group game, before being edged out by the hosts in the knockout stages.

“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.

“For a long period, we had France… you would have to say they were extremely concerned about us.

“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.”

Moldova mission for Irish

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.

“These games are tough, they are really tough matches for us. You are talking about top-level football, so it’s going to be hard for us.

“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.”

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/37601185