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O’Neill urges Ireland to up their game against Serbia

Dublin (AFP) – Martin O’Neill has told the Republic of Ireland they must significantly improve upon their performance in Georgia if they are to beat Serbia in Tuesday’s crunch World Cup qualifier in Dublin.

O’Neill’s men drew 1-1 with Georgia in Tbilisi on Saturday, despite taking the lead just four minutes into the game through Shane Duffy’s header.

It was the perfect start, but Vladimir Weiss’s men took control of the game immediately thereafter and equalised a half hour later through Valeri Kazaishvili.

The hosts had over 70 percent possession for most of the game as Ireland –- joint table-toppers before kick-off –- looked like the fifth-placed team.

O’Neill made two attacking substitutes as the final whistle approached, and Shane Long, James McClean and substitute Aiden McGeady had chances to win the game, but it would have been cruel on the hosts had they failed to take a single point from the game.

With Serbia, now two points clear at the top from O’Neill’s men after defeating Moldova on Saturday and Wales, now just two points adrift of the Republic, defeating Austria later that same day, all the pressure is on O’Neill’s misfiring side to get a result in Dublin.

With three games left in European qualifying Group D, Ireland still have control over their fate.

Moldova visit Dublin in October, before O’Neill’s men conclude their campaign with a trip to Wales.

“Serbia won and it will have to be a phenomenal effort to beat them on Tuesday, that’s what we have to do,” said O’Neill.

“We have to obviously play better and give the Serbians less room to play than we gave the Georgians, particularly in the first half,” he added.

– ‘Heart and Soul’ –

“I don’t think there’s a quick fix to it,” the former Northern Ireland midfielder warned. “We have to try and do better on the ball. We have one or two very decent players who probably didn’t play well.

“But do you know what we’re going to try and do? We’re going to try and win a game, we’re going to put heart and soul into the match on Tuesday night.

“And we’re going to try and beat a side who are probably technically better than us. That’s what we’re going to try and do.”

Ireland’s players were disappointed with their performance with Harty Arter, the Bournemouth midfielder, claiming it was like playing for the Cherries against Manchester City, such was the Georgians’ technical supremacy.

West Brom winger McClean went close to scoring on two occasions, but admitted the visitors had not done enough to merit all three points.

“We’re not happy, we didn’t deserve to win the game,” he said. “We scored early on and rather than go for the jugular we just sat back and protected the lead.

“We looked flat, I don’t know what it was but they were by far the better side. We were better in the second half but by then, I don’t know. It’s a tough place to come, we’re disappointed, we would have liked three points but we got one.

“We were by no means at our best but if anything it simplifies our job on Tuesday night –- we have to win.

“Maybe it’s mentality or maybe they were just better than us on the on the night. We’re bitterly disappointed but we can’t beat ourselves up too much, there’s still a job here to do and we know what we have to do.”

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