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Seamus Coleman is determined the help the Republic of Ireland finish their World Cup campaign stronger than they started it even if that will not soothe the disappointment of missing out on Qatar.
Ireland will bring down the curtain on their failed qualification mission in Luxembourg on Sunday having left themselves with a mountain to climb by losing their first three games, the last of them a shock 1-0 defeat by Luc Holtz’s men in Dublin in March.
Coleman admits missing out on the finals comes as a major blow but the 33-year-old believes the progress Stephen Kenny’s men have made since, culminating in Thursday night’s 0-0 draw with Portugal, indicates a brighter future.
Speaking at the Stade de Luxembourg, he said: “Overall, we wanted to qualify – as players and professionals, as competitors, you want to qualify – and we are disappointed that we’ve not got anything to play for in terms of qualifying from this game.
“But it has been a campaign of two halves and the second half of the campaign, things have started to come together for us.
“I watched from the sideline in the lead-up to the Portugal game for the first couple of days – I’d played on the Sunday – and the tactical work was plain to be seen. What’s being done on the training ground, we did bring that forward into the game and when you see that, as players you are happy and positive.”
Kenny, whose future as manager will be decided by a review of the campaign, is also confident progress has been made with only one defeat in their last nine matches, and that in heartbreaking fashion in Portugal, although a return of one win in 14 competitive fixtures remains an obvious concern.
The 50-year-old, who bristled at opposite number Holtz’s suggestion that his team had reverted to a long-ball approach, said: “Obviously we lost to Luxembourg in March – that last-gasp defeat in Portugal is the only match in nine since then, so we have learned a lot.
“We have a stronger squad overall with the influx of a lot of players we have brought through the system. That gives us greater competition for places, which you need.
“We are an improving team, we are improving all the time. We are not perfect, we still have some work to do to get better. We are hungry to get better, the determination, there’s a great spirit in the squad.
“You have seen that recently in the last few windows. There’s tremendous togetherness in the squad and we’ve seen a very high technical standard in recent games, against Portugal, Qatar, Azerbaijan and Serbia. There has been a very high technical standard overall from the players and they have shown their quality.”
Three points in Luxembourg would see Ireland finish third in the group behind Portugal and Serbia, albeit only on goal difference, but Coleman insists revenge for their humiliation at the Aviva Stadium is not the main motivation.
He said: “Revenge mission – I don’t want to look at it like that in terms of I think we are in a better place ourselves.
“The last few meet-ups have been good. We played some good football at times against Portugal, so we need to take that good atmosphere into this game instead of thinking too far back and what happened.
“We all know. I said at the time, there’s no getting away from that and we have to take that on the chin, but we have to do our utmost to make sure that doesn’t happen again. We are in a better place.”