Matt Doherty has insisted the Republic of Ireland’s hopes of World Cup qualification are not “dead and buried” despite their agonising defeat in Portugal.
Ireland saw three Group A points wrenched from their grasp courtesy of Cristiano Ronaldo’s remarkable late intervention in midweek and head into Saturday’s home clash with Azerbaijan without a point to their name after three games.
However, having very nearly upset the odds in Faro Doherty remains confident that they cannot be written off just yet.
The Tottenham defender said: “Obviously we are chasing, but we haven’t had this conversation. We haven’t said, ‘Let’s take it game-by-game’ or ‘We’re still going for it’. We just haven’t had time to have that kind of chat.
“We obviously know if we’d beaten Portugal, it would have got us right back in the group. But we are not dead and buried.
“We feel really good about ourselves going into Saturday. We feel like we can really go and beat Azerbaijan and beat Serbia
“If we do that, I guess we’ll be back in the group and there are still lots of points to play for. We are not thinking too much about that yet.”
Perhaps the Republic’s best hope is of making it to Qatar via the play-offs, although manager Stephen Kenny knows even that is a big ask.
We obviously know if we’d beaten Portugal, it would have got us right back in the group. But we are not dead and buried
Kenny said: “We are in a difficult position in terms of getting to the play-offs, we know that. If we had won the other night, if we had held out, it really did put us back into contention. There is no doubt about it.
“I am not focusing on the play-offs at the minute. We need to go and try and win the game.”
Ireland’s performance at the Estadio Algarve was as good as they have produced for some time, and it took something special from Ronaldo to deny them after they had defended John Egan’s first-half goal until the 89th minute.
Doherty said: “We understand that we are playing for points at the end of the day, but we also have to understand that we played a really good game and Ronaldo scored two really good headers.
“At the time, I thought they were easy headers, but when I watched them back, especially the second goal, that’s a great header. I don’t know if there was much that any of us could have done.
“It landed on his head and he put it in twice, he was clinical. It’s obviously tough to take, but we’ve just got to move on now.”
Kenny will be without the injured Dara O’Shea and Nathan Collins, but has drafted Liam Scales, Alan Browne and Callum Robinson – fit after a second bout of Covid-19 – into the squad.
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