Euro 2012 Qualifying

Tardelli rallies Irish for big test

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Marco Tardelli has told the Republic of Ireland's players they could be preparing for the most important games of their lives as they attempt to book a trip to the Euro 2012 finals.

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The Republic face Estonia in a two-legged play-off over the next week with a place at next summer's tournament in Poland and the Ukraine at stake.

A World Cup winner himself, Tardelli knows exactly what kind of exposure that can give a player even beyond the honour of representing their country on the big stage.

He said: "It's the match of their life for many players. It's important to qualify because the players need a boost as well in terms of new contracts and visibility.

"The European Championships give the players good visibility and for some players, maybe it is the last chance to be seen around the world.

"It's important, and it is important also for the Irish people.

"If a player plays in the Championship and maybe he plays well at the European Championships, it's possible to sign a new contract or play in the Premier League or in another country.

"This is important. I don't know for other players, but for me, it was very important because I am very close to my country, and I think these players are very close to their country.

"I felt very emotional when I stood on the pitch during the national anthem. I don't know for other players, but I think it's the same thing."

Whatever else qualification would bring - and contract extensions for manager Giovanni Trapattoni, assistant Tardelli and the rest of the staff could depend on it - it would end a 10-year wait for Ireland.

Not since Mick McCarthy's side reached the 2002 World Cup finals in the Far East via a fiercely-contested play-off against Iran has the nation contested a major finals, something which had become a habit under Jack Charlton's guidance.

There have been close calls, and no closer that two years ago when only William Gallas' controversial strike with the help of Thierry Henry's infamous handball in Paris saw France squeeze past the Irish before hitting problems in South Africa.

Those memories remain painfully vivid for many of the players, but Tardelli insists they must be consigned to history.

Asked if the events of that night still hurt, he said: "No, it's finished. We must focus on Estonia because it's very important."

For once, the Republic head into the play-offs as favourites in the eyes of many, although Tardelli has warned it would be dangerous for the players to believe that.

He said: "I don't think so. When we knew the draw, we were very happy because we drew Estonia, but Estonia thought the same thing. After the draw, Estonia were very happy because they drew Ireland.

"We are not favourites. We have a 50% chance like Estonia. We are not favourites - if we think we are favourites, that is very dangerous."

While skipper Robbie Keane was a welcome sight on the training pitch at Gannon Park in Malahide on Tuesday morning, keeper Shay Given and key defender Richard Dunne were absent, along with midfielders Keith Andrews and Keith Fahey.

However, Given was having treatment for a stiff neck and back and Dunne and Fahey for minor knee problems while Andrews was simply rested, unlike unfortunate Millwall keeper David Forde, who has returned to his club with a thigh problem, with Motherwell's Darren Randolph taking his place.

Tardelli said: "Shay Given and Richard Dunne needed a rest.
"Richard has a little problem with his knee and also Shay Given has a little problem with his back, but I think it is possible for them to return tomorrow."

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