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'It’s never over until it’s over' - Cullen bullish ahead of Serbia clash

Ireland’s are on the verge of mathematical elimination from their qualifying groups after just five games.

Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

IRELAND’S WORLD CUP qualification campaign has badly faltered, and it will be put mathematically out of its misery should the team fail to beat Serbia in Dublin on Tuesday night. 

The latest setback was Saturday’s 1-1 draw at home to Azerbaijan: it meant a first point four games into the campaign, but Ireland are still searching for a first competitive win under Stephen Kenny, a year into his tenure. 

“It’s never over until it’s over”, said midfielder Josh Cullen of Ireland’s qualification prospects. “All we can do is try and win every game, control the controllables and the games that are in our hands. Our full focus now is on getting three points on Tuesday night and that’s all that matters from now until then.

“We have to take each game as it comes from now until then and win every game from now until the end of the campaign. It’s as simple as that.

“We have to be confident, we have to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves down. We know we’ve got a group here with the character and talent that should be able to get a result on Tuesday night.

“And as frustrating as it is with the result [against Azerbaijan], we have to learn from it and fully focus on Tuesday night and come back to the Aviva and get a positive result.

“The responsibility lies with us as players to deliver. It’s easy to talk and say we can do this and we can do that, it comes down us to delivering on the pitch and we have to take that responsibility as a team, and as players, we’ll be doing everything we can to get three points.”

The draw with Azerbaijan follows a familiar pattern for Ireland, as it followed an encouraging performance – albeit in defeat – away to one of the group’s higher seeds. In March they followed the 3-2 loss away to Serbia with a loss at home to Luxembourg, and the underperformance against Azerbaijan came off the back of the narrow loss in Portugal. 

When asked to explain it, Cullen defended the side’s showing on Saturday. 

“I don’t think it was a bad performance. I think if we score three goals in the second half and have a bit more fortune in front of goal or a little bit more quality in the final third, we’re probably not saying it’s a poor performance.

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“But yeah, there is definitely things we need to improve on. And the main thing in football, it’s a results business and that’s what we need to start doing. We need to start turning our good spells in games, scoring when we’re on top, and winning games, simple as that.”

Cullen is confident the squad can deliver Kenny his first win.

“We believe in the character and ability we have in the squad. All we can do is keep working hard, believe in ourselves and, like I said, with a little bit more quality in the final third [against Azerbaijan] and maybe a little bit more luck with ricochets in the box and we’re here talking about a positive result. 

“There is no time for us to be downbeat, it’s a quick turnaround, we have to fully focus on Tuesday night and as players, it’s our job to be confident and we have to be on Tuesday night going in against a good side.” 

Ireland will be without Seamus Coleman for the game, as the captain has withdrawn through injury. Cyrus Christie has been called up in his place. 

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