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We can win in Skopje:O'Dea

PART ONE of the Macedonian job has been accomplished -- now it's on to Skopje in the searing heat of June for part two of the battle which could settle Ireland's participation in Euro 2012.

But Darren O'Dea insists that Ireland need to up their game when they visit the Macedonian capital in 10 weeks' time if the side are serious about reaching the finals in Poland and Ukraine.

O'Dea, currently on loan to Ipswich Town from Celtic, was one of the newish faces in the Irish side on Saturday night, one of three players in the back five who were making their competitive debuts.

And the big Dubliner came away with top marks for his display as O'Dea was one of the more solid Irish defenders on the night and it's positive news that if any of the three regulars at centre half -- Richard Dunne, Sean St Ledger and John O'Shea -- are missing, O'Dea is more than capable of filling in.



booking

He may have to do that in June as Dunne's booking on Saturday means that the Aston Villa man is suspended and will lose his record of having played in every competitive game since Trapattoni took charge, so O'Dea could well be in the side again in Skopje.

"Macedonia are building up a name for themselves over the last 10 years and they're not a bad team at all. Having seen them here in Dublin on Saturday night I know we'll need to play a lot better out there in June if we're to get the win," O'Dea told the Evening Herald.

"You always want to improve in football, that's a general principle, but looking back on Saturday's game I know we can do better, we won the game and got the points but we all saw stuff that we have to improve on."

The obvious example of that is the incident a minute before half time when Ivan Trichkovski caused some alarm with his goal, the man from APOEL Nicosia -- how this very talented player is not at a bigger club and a better league than that is a mystery -- latched onto Pandev's ball and stroked a shot past Keiren Westwood, depriving Ireland of another clean sheet.



pressure

It's a concern that Ireland conceded so many goals in so many games like that: the team have managed just three clean sheets from the last 13 games but, worryingly, only one clean sheet from the last seven competitive games (that was away to Armenia).

"There was massive pressure all week as it was a must-win game for us, so no one is complaining too much about the goal," said O'Dea.

"I don't think we switched off but we did maybe drop our pace a bit. I feel with Ireland we are a better team when we take teams on and play at a high tempo, but we let the tempo drop just a bit and got punished for it. We won the game and that's the most important thing.

"It would of course have been better to win it with a clean sheet. When we went 2-0 up were cruising and we sat in, trying to get to half time while still taking the game to them. We made it difficult for ourselves by conceding that goal but if we qualify for the finals, no one will remember or care about performances or goals like that.

"There was massive pressure on us to win the game and we've done that but now we have to go to Skopje and try to win again.



dropping

"It won't be easy in any way, but qualification is never easy. I think we have enough about us to get the win.

"With Russia dropping points in Armenia, automatic qualification is still very much on for us, but we can't worry about Russia or anyone else, we just focus on ourselves and look to the next game. Skopje will be very tough in that June heat but I feel we can do it," added O'Dea.

There were concerns before the game over how the untested Irish back line would handle a threat like Goran Pandev, a handy club player with Inter Milan who has scored 23 goals in his previous 57 appearances for the national team, but those Irishmen who were playing competitively for the first time -- O'Dea, Kevin Foley and Keiren Westwood -- showed no sign of nerves.

"It was a big test for the defence and the keeper. People were saying before the match that three of the back five were making their competitive debuts, and that was true. But in my case I was beside someone who has 109 caps in Kevin Kilbane and 65 caps with Richard Dunne, so that was a great help for me. You had the inexperienced players like myself and Kevin Foley but we had Richard and Kevin to guide us along," said O'Dea.

"I knew coming into the squad last week that I might have a chance of playing. All the speculation was about Richard Dunne but as it turned out Richard was fine and it was Sean St Ledger who picked up a knock in training.

"So I was delighted to get the chance to play and make my competitive debut for my country. I was happy with how I played, it went well for me on a personal level and now I have a taste of competitive games, I want a lot more.

"And hopefully I can get another cap in tomorrow's game, some of the lads were patched up to play on Saturday but I'm fit and ready and available to play tomorrow.

"Maybe I have a chance of getting into the side now for the team in June in the next qualifier as Richard is suspended. But there are a lot of games at club level between now and then so I will just do my best for my club and hope to get in again for the game in Macedonia."