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Thursday 16 August 2018

Ward insists pressure is all on hosts as Irish aim to turn the home fans

STEPHEN WARD was slow to swap shirts with his opponents after Friday's Euro qualifier against Slovakia in Dublin.

While Robbie Keane and Shay Given's Ireland appearances are into the three figures, Ward had just made his competitive debut and wanted to keep hold of the memory -- and the jersey.

"I didn't want to swap on Friday, it was probably one of the biggest games of my career and I wanted to keep the shirt for myself but one of the Slovak players asked me, I didn't know how to say in Slovakian that I wanted to keep the jersey and it would have been rude not to swap," Ward said.

"I'm not big into all that, anyway. I don't care about collecting the other team's jerseys for myself, I will swap with anyone if we get the right result.

"The last thing on your mind should be swapping shirts with someone. We've come here to Moscow to do well for Ireland, not collect souvenirs for ourselves."

The Shamrock Rovers players who triumphed in Belgrade last month celebrated by throwing every stitch of their match kit into the crowd after their win over Partizan, and the 700 Irish fans expected in Moscow this evening could expect a similar reaction from Giovanni Trapattoni's players if they manage to win.



Fighting

Games like this are hard to play in but easy to talk up. Fighting talk comes easy, winning three European Championship points in Moscow is a lot harder, but Ward insists that there's a steely determination in the squad to deliver, as evident by a post-mortem among the players in the aftermath of the Slovakia draw.

"We had a good chat about it. A few of the lads sat down and had a chat on Saturday night about what happened on Friday and what we need to do now, and I know that spirits are still high," Ward said. "It was an informal thing, a few of the lads just sat down and chatted about what we need to do now.

"People will say that going to Russia is too hard a task but if you look at football at any level, strange results happen all the time and sometimes it's easier to play away from home as the pressure's off us. The pressure is all on them, Russia will come at us and that could work to our advantage.

"When Ireland go away to play any of the big nations, we're always the underdogs and that suits us.

"We come to the fore in games like that and I think it'll bring the best out of us. Slovakia went to Moscow and won and Russia only beat Macedonia here 1-0 so we can do it.

"I don't think the game plan will change too much. The main thing is still that we're not beaten.

"We'll go into the match with confidence because of our good defensive record, we'll need to be on top of our game to get something from it.

"If we can get a positive result we're still in the hunt as next month's games are going to be crucial, that game between Slovakia and Russia in Slovakia will have a big bearing on it all," added Ward.



Exile

Due to his exile in Russia with Spartak Moscow, Aiden McGeady has been quizzed by his Ireland team-mates all week. Bizarrely, McGeady is the only Spartak player involved in the game tomorrow, which is a sign of real change in the power base of Russian football as Spartak, with players such as Valeri Karpin and Viktor Onopko, dominated the Russian national team in the 1990s.

"I haven't played on a plastic pitch and it will be interesting," added Ward. "Aiden has already told us a bit of what to expect. We'll have trained on it before the game so we're not going in blind.

"Aiden has warned us about Russia. He says they are a good side with top players in every position, but he reckons the crowd could be a factor.

"If we can start well and get the crowd frustrated, that will be good for us. Aiden says that tends to happen in Russian club games, that the fans can turn on their own team pretty quickly, so we have to work towards that."

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