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Oct 7, 2010

Advocaat wary of falling into Irish Trap

Russia coach Dick Advocaat has challenged his star names to live up to their billing ahead of their Euro 2012 date with destiny in Dublin this Friday.

A shock 1-0 home defeat at the hands of Slovakia in the last round of qualifiers has left Advocaat's side in a perilous position ahead of a trip to face Giovanni Trapattoni's Republic of Ireland side, with the tie against Macedonia in Skopje four days later offering potential for another slip up from the Group B favourites.

Speaking to ESPNsoccernet, former Netherlands and South Korea boss Advocaat has urged Arsenal star turn Andrei Arshavin, his North London rival at Tottenham, Roman Pavlyuchenko, and Everton's Diniyar Bilyaletdinov to confirm their class ahead of what is likely to be the most challenging test of Russia's qualification credentials.

"This is the moment for the select Russian players who are respected across Europe to show they can produce their best form when we need it most," Advocaat says, having succeeded Guus Hiddink as Russia coach last summer. "Ireland will be a long way in front of us if we lose this game and this is not an option, so I can be confident of seeing the likes of Arshavin, Pavlyuchenko and Bilyaletdinov come good when the big moment arrives.

"I have to say the pressure we find ourselves under now is a little unfortunate as the defeat against Slovakia last month was a travesty in many ways. We ran the game from start to finish, but lost out with some vital refereeing decisions before being punished by their one real attack of any note, so this was a hard defeat to accept for my team.

"However, our defeat means this match in Ireland carries greater significance and, while I don't want to put any extra pressure on my players, it's clear that our margin for error has been reduced. The team I will send into battle against Ireland will have the potential to win the game, but as France, Italy and many other big nations have found during Trapattoni's time with Ireland, this kind of result is not so easy to achieve.

"What we cannot do is feel any sense of panic. Even though we need to make up ground in our group, this is not the moment for Russian fans or players to believe we have reached a moment where we have to win every game from now on. My aim is still to qualify directly for Euro 2012 in first place and I'm convinced our fightback will begin in Dublin."

When asked to pick out a chief threat to Russia's ambitions against Ireland, Advocaat has little hesitation in naming his man. But just for once, the figure capable of dashing his hopes will not set foot on the pitch at the luxuriously redeveloped Lansdowne Road stadium.

"I respect Robbie Keane, Shay Given and all the Ireland players, but one man has become the key for them and this is Trapattoni," Advocaat says. "This great coach has given Ireland the tactical culture they needed, a solid set-up on the pitch, and they are very hard to push around now.

"This is why Ireland have not been beaten too often since Trapattoni became their boss and why they are such a threat in this group. After a lifetime in the game, there is nothing he doesn't know about producing winning teams. He's very astute psychologically and I'm sure the Irish players respond to his aura and standing in world football.

"As well as being a great coach, he was a super player in his day too and he knows how footballers function and think. I've heard people who have worked with him say he treats everyone the same, that he has no favourites. You either perform for Trapattoni or you leave.

"This is a good mentality and the work he has done with Ireland has been first class. He has taken the best qualities of the players he inherited and helped to build their belief and spirit. If you have the right attitude and confidence as a team, you can go a long way whatever your talent."

Advocaat is expecting to revisit the kind of atmosphere he grew to cherish during his days as Rangers manager, with their intense local rivalry with Celtic producing occasions that are rarely matched around the football world.

"I know what to expect in Dublin and the Irish crowd will be very vocal and make it intimidating for us," he says. "It will be Anfield, Old Trafford and Ibrox all rolled into one, so we have to stand strong both physically and mentally.

"This should not be a problem for us as it's not as if we are not going into the unknown. Several of our guys play in the Premier League and won't be fazed by a hostile reception. This will not be any different to the sort of gladiatorial atmosphere they have grown used to with their clubs.

"It's an old cliche, but our first job is to match their hunger and desire. Then we aim to make the difference with our greater technical qualities, but in no way should we be fearful of this trip.

"I got to understand the Anglo-Irish football mentality very well from my four years at Rangers and Trapattoni is using it to his advantage. Whether you're facing a team from Dublin, Glasgow, London, Belfast or Cardiff, you can be sure of one thing - that they will play with energy, total commitment, pride in the shirt and togetherness.

"Football in that part of the world is all about the battle and when you add in the sort of organisation Ireland have developed under Trapattoni, it's easy to see why I believe they are capable of finishing in the top position in this qualifying group.

"It makes no difference that some of the Irish players don't play for the top club sides in the game. The framework of the team is so good that anyone can come in and do a great job. Ireland are a side worth much more than the sum of their parts."

Advocaat and Trapattoni are both faced with similar concerns ahead of this showdown as they are set to pick players who have not been seeing regular action at club level this season, with the Russia boss admitting his lack of options is a concern.

"Ireland and ourselves have the same problem [with] important players who are not playing enough first-team football every week," Advocaat says. "Keane and Given for them; Pavlyuchenko, Zhirkov and Bilyaletdinov for us. It's a dilemma for a national coach. Of course, match rustiness can affect performance, but you still want all your key men on the field of play. There is no use holding back your aces when a game is this important."

Every Euro 2012 qualifying section will have a pivotal fixture that shapes the course of the campaign. In Group B, that seminal moment will come in Dublin this Friday.

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