Football Association of Ireland chief John Delaney was hopeful about the Republic of Ireland's chances after the draw for the 2010 World Cup qualifiers.
Delaney says there is a lot of interest in the vacant Republic job
Holders Italy will be hot favourites in the group which also includes Bulgaria but Delaney believes that second spot is a realistic target for the Republic.
"Although we are the third seed, we'll be going for the play-offs," he said.
Terry Venables is being linked with the vacant manager's job but the FAI is refusing to comment on contenders.
Delaney said he was optimistic that a new manager would be in place before the home friendly against Brazil in February.
"We've spoken to about 25 people over the last couple of weeks in terms of the type of manager we should have," added the FAI chief executive.
"A number of people have contacted us saying they would like to have the job. There is certainly a greater level of interest this time than last. We've got a better squad now than 18 months ago, a better playing pool.
"Secondly we are in a better financial position this time round and are prepared to put more money on the table.
The Italy game at Croke Park will be something special with 76,000 people in the stadium
"Our preference would be to have someone in place before the Brazil game."
The Irish failed to qualify for Euro 2008 and will have to negotiate a path in a 2010 World Cup qualifying group containing defending champions Italy, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia and Montenegro.
The Cypriots ended Steve Staunton's reign by claiming a 1-1 draw in Dublin last month - which came 13 months after the Republic crashed to a 5-2 defeat in Nicosia.
However, Delaney insisted that he was satisfied with the group and said that he was particularly looking forward to welcoming Italy to Croke Park.
"It'll be something special with 76,000 people in the stadium."
Bulgarian FA president Borislav Mikhailov, who played for Reading in the mid-1990s, said meeting the Irish would constitute a race for second place.
"It's a big challenge but if you want to go to the play-offs, you have to beat them."
Italy manager Roberto Donadoni remarked that none of his team's group opponents "have a great football tradition" but he still believed that they would represent "difficult" challenges.
"Bulgaria is probably the main contender for us in this group," he said.
"Montenegro, as with all of the former Yugoslavia nations, are difficult opponents. And let's not even talk about Ireland."
However, Italian Federation President Giancarlo Abete was delighted after the draw.
"We could not have asked for better. As world champions, we should win this group," insisted Abete.