Pool D: This is a tough group for all of us, says Coleman
Welsh manager praises the experience within the Irish team over past 20 years
Chris Coleman says Wales are starting to face expectations, but each game ‘will be about those 90 minutes’. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA Wire
Chris Coleman said he was particularly pleased for personal reasons, revealing his father was Irish and recalling his debut for Wales at underage level coming in a game against the Republic. But, he insisted, familiarity will breed a little more competition between the two sides when they meet than the first versus fourth seeds billing might suggest.
“You know what? We’ve just played Belgium,” he says, “seeded second in the world and we beat them so when these games come around, forget where you are, nobody will be thinking this team is five or 15 or 20 (in the world); it will all be about those 90 minutes, who gets it right and who gets it wrong.”
“It’s a good group for all of us,” he continued, “a tough group, an interesting one but I think once it starts, nobody will be thinking about where anybody is seeded.”
Coleman has, he says, been taking a fair amount of interest in Ireland’s progress over the current campaign and insists he doesn’t read too much into the team’s current positions, a couple of points adrift of third place.
The Welsh, he says, are starting to have to cope with expectation at home but in games against Ireland that he believes can be special occasions for both sets of fans, it is the experience within the Irish squad that will, he says, pose a particular challenge even if, he admits, one or two of longest-serving squad members have departed.
“Yeah, that’s possible but, when I took this job with Wales and I was speaking to our players and I mentioned Robbie Keane. I said, ‘look at how many caps Robbie Keane has....how many times he’s turned out for Ireland.’ We haven’t had a player with 100 caps yet; we’ve got one or two well on the way now but if you look at Robbie Keane, he’s a great example of how to do it, how to approach being an international football player.
“You’ve got one or two others with great experience. Ireland are always a tough game for anyone. And you’ve had success in the last 20-15 years ... you’ve been to European Championships, you’ve been to World Cups; we haven’t so we’ll be going into these games and your boys will be a little more savvy to it than we will.”
“They’ve not done great in this campaign but they’re always a tough team....we found that out two years ago when they beat us heavily (6-1). Fortunately, we turned a corner.”
The managers of the group’s other main sides, meanwhile, also shared the view that things will be up for grabs in Group D.
“Its a very balanced group but I’m satisfied with the draw,” said Austria’s Marcel Koller. “Moldova, Ireland and Wales are opponents we know. But Serbia also has a strong team and very good players. All the teams are dangerous and against Wales and Ireland, we must be physically strong because this is required against the English style of play.”
Like O’Neill, Serbia’s Radovan Curcic, expressed relief at having avoided the game’s biggest names: “We have avoided the absolute favourites,” he said. “Group D is equal group, it will be very competitive but it gives us a chance.”