Long returns to Reading with injury


Shane Long has been ruled out of the Republic of Ireland's penultimate Euro 2008 qualifier against Cyprus after he picked up a groin injury during last night's draw with Germany.

The Reading forward, who came on for Kevin Doyle as a second-half substitute at Croke Park, has returned to England to receive treatment, leaving manager Steve Staunton short of attacking options.

Andy Reid is also a doubt for Wednesday's match after his troublesome ankle injury flared up overnight while the Irish management team are also monitoring the fitness of Kevin Doyle and Kevin Kilbane.

Richard Dunne and Lee Carsley have also been ruled out having picked up second yellow cards but Staunton can at least welcome back Paul McShane and Stephen Hunt after they served suspensions of their own.

Last night's draw leaves Ireland in need of a miracle of biblical proportions to qualify for the finals but Staunton will now look to secure third place in the group and gain a measure of revenge on the visitors following last year's humiliating 5-2 defeat in Nicosia.

And that embarrassment is a huge motivating factor for captain Robbie Keane.

"We're looking forward to the game with Cyprus because we remember what they did to us a year ago," stated Keane. "Towards the end of the game, they were showboating a little bit, so we're looking to getting our revenge on them."

That word revenge can often sound cliched and over-dramatic in footballing terms, but in this instance it is appropriate given the agonies suffered that night.

The Republic also require victory to virtually guarantee third place in Group D, and with it a more favourable seeding and draw ahead of the 2010 World Cup qualification programme.

But Ireland have Slovakia and Cyprus breathing down their neck, with the worst case scenario the prospect they could even finish a miserable sixth in the group.

That would be unthinkable for centre-back Dunne, who sits out the game on Wednesday through suspension.

"For us, last night's result is a sign of progress," said the Manchester City captain. "We dominated the game in the second half, and were unfortunate not to win it. It was still a pleasing result because nobody gave us a chance before the game.

"We showed the Germans, and the Irish public, that hopefully we're a side on the up for the World Cup qualifiers. I feel we gave the crowd value for money, and now we are looking for further progress and three points against Cyprus.

"It's an important game because if they win then they go ahead of us in the group, so we have to make sure we remain ahead of them bearing in mind the seedings for the World Cup."

Providing there is no further disaster against the Cypriots, it is a given Staunton will be in charge come next September.

Liverpool right-back Steve Finnan voiced his support for his manager ahead of the game, with Tottenham striker Keane lending weight to the debate as he added: "Are we behind him? Of course we are."

It would have been useful for Staunton to have offered his more considered post-match thoughts today, but remarkably the 38-year-old opted to skip training, with no valid reason offered by a Football Association of Ireland spokesman.

The session was instead taken by coach Kevin MacDonald as he put the players who did not figure against the Germans through their paces.