STEPHEN WARD believes he'll be a better player for having passed a very tough Russian test in Moscow last month.
The man from Portmarnock will line up at left-back for Ireland against Andorra on Friday night to make his third competitive appearance.
While Ward impressed in defence on his debut at home to Slovakia, his next game -- away to Russia -- was a much tougher examination of his abilities, but he is confident that the bruising experience of facing the Russians in Moscow will stand to him.
"Moscow was a harder test for me than the Slovakia game, but I enjoyed that test," Ward told the Herald ahead of the team's flight to Barcelona today to prepare for Friday's game in the Pyrenees.
"We were under the cosh for a lot of the match in Russia but it was still a great experience to go there and pick up a result. We had to go there and scrap for a result and that will benefit everyone in the long run.
"It was a tough game but I still enjoyed it. Just playing in an environment like that made me relish and want more of it.
"I feel I'm a better player for coming through that test in Russia. As a footballer you try and learn from every game but I know I took a lot from the Russia match. We had to put our bodies on the line and we had to defend for much longer than you'd like in a game, but we survived.
"Being the home team the onus was on them to attack, so it was always going to be tough, but we stood up to it.
"Russia have a brilliant home record, not many teams win there, so a draw is a good result for us. Some of the best teams in Europe have gone to Moscow and lost so to get a point was fantastic," added Ward.
Now all that talk from the Moscow game -- a hostile environment, brilliant home record and world-class team -- goes out the window because of Friday's game. Russia have only lost four competitive games in Moscow over six decades.
Put simply, Andorra's home record is dismal and one of the worst in Europe right now. Over the last three campaigns they have played 15 games at home (all bar two of them in Andorra, with their games against England played in Barcelona), lost all 15 and only scored two goals -- against Belarus and Kazakhstan.
The Irish squad arrived in nearby Barcelona today, but will only get their first glimpse of Andorra and its tiny stadium tomorrow -- a slight concern.
"It's going to be difficult because of the conditions. We have to be professional in our preparations and our build-up, it's a game we just have to win. It's a hard game to approach, even if we win it people will still say, 'well you were expected to win it anyway', and we just have to move on to Tuesday," Ward stressed.
"It's a game we still have to win. The so-called minnows in international football have closed the gap and this will be like a cup final to them.
"So a lot of this game on Friday will come down to our mindset. We have to treat it the same way as any other game -- we need to go there and do a professional job.
"It's over for us in this campaign if we don't win on Friday, we need to win both games if we want to qualify," added Ward, aware that the picture of the group following the crucial Slovakia-Russia game will be clearer by the time Ireland are on the field against Andorra.
"We have to focus on ourselves, we can't change the outcome of the other games. This group has been so hard to predict, with Slovakia winning in Russia and Armenia winning in Slovakia, so all we can do is get the six points we're looking for and hope it's enough," added Ward, who is hoping for a change in fortunes from his club situation.
"Wolves' form is disappointing at the moment. I'm happy with my own form but we've lost a few games recently and it's all about the team, not how I play as an individual.
"In the last few games, it's only the QPR game where we have really let ourselves down - last Saturday was very frustrating, so I'm hoping for two wins over the next week."