Martin O’Neill has revealed the Republic of Ireland are desperate to keep their World Cup dream alive for injured skipper Seamus Coleman.
Coleman was a spectator at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday evening as Serbia took a vice-like grip on Group D with a 1-0 win at the Aviva Stadium, which left them four points clear of second-placed Wales, now second above Ireland after a 2-0 win in Moldova.
O’Neill was disappointed for the men who worked so hard on the pitch, but more so for Everton full-back Coleman, who suffered an horrendous double leg fracture against the Welsh in March.
He said: “I’m disappointed for the team, and I’ll tell you who I’m really disappointed for – and he didn’t even play tonight – that’s the captain of the side, Seamus Coleman.
“The players were delighted to see him coming over, I was delighted to see him come and if we could make it to the World Cup – I think he might come back around about Christmas-time…
“The players, who love him to death anyway, if there’s anything that would keep you going, it would be that, for Coleman to make it to the World Cup.”
Ireland have their work cut out if they are to make it to Russia next summer after following up their 1-1 draw in Georgia with the defeat by the Serbs, which was delivered with a venomous 55th-minute swing of Roma defender Aleksandar Kolarov’s left-boot.
O’Neill said: “There are moments in the game where class players, players who play in the big leagues, can come and create something.
“He got the space and has hammered into the net and it’s eventually proved the difference in the game.”
Ireland got a break when defender Nikola Maksimovic was dismissed for a 68th-minute challenge on substitute Daryl Murphy, who was convinced he had been dragged back in the area by Jagos Vukovic eight minutes later, but not in the opinion of referee Cuneyt Cakir.
Ireland’s hopes of qualification suffered a major blow as a result, but O’Neill is not yet ready to throw in the towel.
He said: “We can win our last two games, we can still make it. After a performance like that tonight, I’m very confident that we can win both games.”