John O'Shea has cut through the bitter frustration of the Republic of Ireland's last-gasp slip against Austria to insist that a World Cup play-off place remains within their grasp. The stand-in captain watched Austria's David Alaba force a 2-2 draw in Dublin with a deflected 92nd-minute equaliser, a result that left Ireland needing, in all likelihood, to record a landmark triumph against Sweden at home in September.
Since Giovanni Trapattoni took over as the manager almost five years ago Ireland have not beaten a higher-ranked team in a competitive fixture. Indeed, they have not done so since 2001, when they won 1-0 against Holland in Dublin.
But O'Shea said that he had seen enough good things against Austria and in the 0-0 draw with Sweden in Stockholm last Friday to encourage him. Ireland are level on points with both of those nations in Group C, behind the leaders Germany, although Sweden have a game in hand. Ireland face the Faroe Islands at home in June, before the double-header against Sweden and Austria (away) in September, and O'Shea suggested that neither team has the capacity to scare Ireland.
"That is what the players will get confidence from," he said. "When the frustration had settled in the dressing room, the lads realised that we can go to Austria and win and obviously we have Sweden at home. We feel we can win both games. We haven't left ourselves with much margin for error, which is the unfortunate part, but the fact that we can go and win those matches is something the lads believe in. We have to win those games if we want to qualify."
The positives against Austria included the offensive threat shown by Shane Long and James McClean, and the collective character in evidence after the concession of a soft early goal. The biggest negative, though, and one that Trapattoni continued to chew over on Wednesday, was the failure to kill the game in injury time. Ireland surrendered possession cheaply and needlessly following a free-kick, and Alaba made them pay.
"That's not how you finish international games off," O'Shea said. "When the board went up for injury time we had to be cynical, start wasting time, keeping the ball at the corner flag. We had the perfect opportunity to do that and we were trying to get the message across but we couldn't do that. It's hugely disappointing and frustrating but we're not out of it yet."
Trapattoni agreed, and he noted how the group had merely reached their halfway point as he stressed that there remains everything to play for. He reported that the Football Association of Ireland chief executive, John Delaney, felt that the team had merely been "unlucky" and Trapattoni was confident his reshaped squad could grow ahead of the decisive return ties in September.
"Having seen Sweden and Austria now, I definitely think they are teams we can beat later in the year," Marc Wilson, the full-back, said. "They are two decent teams but I think, among all the lads, we feel we can beat them. We've not had the rub of the green."