Martin O’Neill is convinced Ireland can beat Moldova and Wales to keep their World Cup dream alive despite a damaging and controversial defeat by 10-man Serbia.
Aleksandar Kolarov’s second-half strike handed the Group D leaders a 1-0 victory in Dublin and left them on the brink of qualification, although Ireland were left to bemoan a penalty decision that was not given as they slipped to third place in the table.
However, O’Neill is backing his players to set up a grandstand finish in Cardiff next month by beating Moldova at the Aviva Stadium.
Asked if the Republic had blown their chance after a return of just a single point from their last two games, he said: “Absolutely not.
“No, 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.
“There are obviously a lot of disappointed players in there, particularly after the performance. It’s not just big words, it’s how I feel. I think we can win both games and that’s what we have to do.
“Before a ball was kicked, if you’d said to me that you seriously had to win the last two games, one at home, one away in Cardiff to make the play-offs, I would definitely take it.
“I am right, that is the situation, isn’t it? We can, 19 points can get you there.”
Defeat sees the Republic, who are now without a win in four qualifying games, drop down to third in the group after Wales 2-0 win in Moldova, but the boss retains belief that they can still qualify despite the latest setback.
“We certainly [gave every last drop],” he told Sky Sports.
“We were terrific in the first half, we just couldn’t get that elusive goal.
“We threw caution to the wind at the end, could have got the result, and probably should have done.
“I’m very disappointed, naturally, but very proud of the team which is very important,” he added.
“Obviously there are some very disappointed players in the dressing room but the most important issue is we are not out of it.
“We have two games left and we can still make it. We must win the last two games and that sets us up, it gives us a chance.”
The hosts had a penalty shout when Daryll Murphy appeared to be pulled down in the area but O’Neill was tight-lipped on the decision.
He added: “I didn’t see it back, but the players are absolutely adamant it was a penalty kick.
“I have not seen it back yet – I have just come out here – but the players in the dressing room say it’s a clear-cut penalty and the referee has chosen not to give it.
“What can you say? What’s the point? The game’s over. It’s not going to change the result.”