Crunch time at Croke Park.
Liam Lawrence has been handed his first competitive Republic of Ireland start for
Saturday’s World Cup Group Eight qualifier against Italy at Croke Park.
The Stoke midfielder gets the nod ahead of Stephen Hunt and replaces the injured Damien Duff on the right.
Defenders Richard Dunne and Sean St Ledger are both fit and will start.
Italy will secure their place in the finals if they draw while the Republic will put themselves in with a chance of automatic qualification if they win.
The Republic are four points behind group leaders Italy with just one match to come after Saturday’s encounter.
Giovanni Trapatoni’s side need to pick up two points from their final qualifiers if they are to clinch a place in the play-offs, with Bulgaria still a threat to their hopes of playing in South Africa next summer.
Being without Duff is big for us and it is important we have Lawrence for set-pieces
Trapatoni, who played for and managed Italy during his career, believes his side seek to improve on the 1-1 draw they secured in Italy in April.
“The important thing for us is to play the game and do the best we can to keep our distance on Bulgaria,” he said.
“Then anything can happen. Italy may even lose to Cyprus. We are focusing on keeping the distance and getting into the play-offs.”
Trapatoni believes Lawrence will provide an aerial threat in Dublin.
“Being without Duff is big for us and it is important we have Lawrence for set-pieces,” he said.
“He is confident on the ball and he is at a good age.”
Lawrence, who scored the winner in last month’s friendly win over South Africa, will win his third cap.
Fulham winger Duff is out of Saturday’s game because of injury but could play a part in Wednesday’s clash against Montenegro.
Darron Gibson and Steven Reid are also out of Saturday’s qualifier because of injury.
QPR midfielder Martin Rowlands has been brought into the squad as cover while striker Caleb Folan had already been declared unavailable because of a hamstring injury.
The absence of midfielders Duff, Reid and Gibson made Andy Reid’s claims for a recall look all the more compelling.
Midfielder Claudio Marchisio is out for Italy because of a knee injury.
The Italians are expected to rely on a Juventus-dominated side in Saturday’s game.
Seven Juve players started last month’s 2-0 home win over Bulgaria, which was the world champions’ best performance in some time.
Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro is suspended for the trip to Dublin and his Juventus team-mate Nicola Legrottaglie is likely to play in central alongside another club-mate Giorgio Chiellini.
Left-back Fabio Grosso, who netted the winning penalty in the 2006 World Cup final against France, scored a classy opener against the Bulgarians while his Juve team-mate Claudio Marchisio did well on the left midfield flank.
Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, striker Vincenzo Iaquinta and winger Mauro Camoranesi could complete the Juve contingent.
Daniele De Rossi is expected to hold on to his midfield berth ahead of the available again Gennaro Gattuso.
Republic of Ireland: Shay Given, John O’Shea, Richard Dunne, Sean St Ledger, Kevin Kilbane, Liam Lawrence, Glenn Whelan, Keith Andrews, Aidan McGeady, Kevin Doyle, Robbie Keane.
Italy: TBC (BBC Sport)
Giovanni Trapattoni has done a wonderful job to get his Irish side to this point but it is next to impossible for them to overtake Italy but points gained during their successive home games, with Montenegro the visitors on Wednesday, will stand them in good stead to make it as one of the eight best runners up for the crucial play-off matches.
Of course if Ireland manage to overcome the Italians they can watch in hope that Cyprus manage to get something on Wednesday then the whole group is thrown open, but first things first. Both sides are unbeaten in their first eight games so it seems fairly likely that this game will end all square.
My Prediction: 0-0