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banner Saturday, 10 November, 2001, 16:32 GMT
McCarthy prepares for showdown
Matt Holland has a habit of scoring important goals for Ireland
Matt Holland is preferred to Mark Kinsella in midfield
Republic of Ireland v Iran
Lansdowne Road - Saturday 10 November 1800 GMT

Mick McCarthy has named Steve Finnan and Matt Holland in his team for Saturday's World Cup play-off first leg against Iran at Lansdowne Road.

Their inclusion instead of Leeds' Gary Kelly and Charlton midfielder Mark Kinsella is the big talking point of the Irish selection.

Fulham man Finnan has got the nod ahead of Kelly because of the Leeds defender's lack of first team football in recent weeks.

Kinsella has never let Ireland down but Holland has impressed hugely in his 18-month international career and has a habit of scoring important goals.

Despite that, McCarthy claimed the selection decisions were "not difficult".

"The tough part was telling terrific professionals like Kinsella and Kelly that they are not going to start because they are important members of a very good squad," said the Irish boss.

If there is any sort of reaction I'll maybe have to go and see the specialist next week
Roy Keane

The side shows two two changes from the team that defeated Cyprus 4-0 in October.

Jason McAteer replaces the injured Mark Kennedy on the right side of midfield while Robbie Keane takes over from David Connolly in attack.

Roy Keane partners Holland in central midfielder after being declared fit in midweek.

However, the Irish midfielder admits that he is not entirely happy with his fitness.

"I'm not thinking about the second leg in Tehran next Thursday yet," said Keane.

"I'm focusing everything on tomorrow and if there is any sort of reaction I'll maybe have to go and see the specialist next week," he added.

Keane's admission of his own concerns will be a worry to Irish fans.

Ireland's captain Roy Keane has been troubled by injury in the run-up to the game
Roy Keane is crucial to Irish morale

His importance to this Irish team cannot be over-stated.

His sheer will-to-win drives the Irish team and any early departure from the home captain on Saturday would be a huge blow to the side's morale.

On the basis of their displays in a hugely competitive qualifying group, the Republic rightly go into the play-off as favourites.

However, the Iranians are strong in midfield and attack and could cause the Irish defence problems.

Hertha Berlin's Ali Daei is a highly-rated striker and his pace could worry Irish central defenders Steve Staunton and Gary Breen.

Daei forms a potentially lethal attack along with Ali Karimi who turned down a lucrative contract offer from Atletico Madrid earlier this year.

Former Charlton man Karim Bagheri is something of a hardman in midfield and his expected tussle with Keane could prove crucial.

The second leg of the play-off will take place in Tehran on Thursday before an expected crowd of 110,000.

Republic of Ireland: Given, Finnan, Breen, Staunton, Harte, McAteer, Holland, Roy Keane, Kilbane, Quinn, Robbie Keane.

Ireland boss Mick McCarthy
"Iran are a very well-organised team"
Captain Roy Keane
"It's a great opportunity for the lads"
BBC Football Focus
match preview
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