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tough test Ireland need to play a game that disrupts Portugal’s style and causes them problems

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Ireland players train during an Ireland training session at Estádio Algarve in Faro, Portugal ahead of tomorrow evening's clash. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ireland players train during an Ireland training session at Estádio Algarve in Faro, Portugal ahead of tomorrow evening's clash. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ireland players train during an Ireland training session at Estádio Algarve in Faro, Portugal ahead of tomorrow evening's clash. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

I had just broken into the Ireland team when we went to Portugal for a World Cup qualifier 21 years ago.

We’d been drawn in the group with Holland and Portugal, so as a player you think, it’s a tough group. But we had a very talented squad – when you look back at it, we had players at the top end of the Premier League then.

Maybe we should have had more belief in ourselves then but still, when it’s Portugal away, you wonder how you’ll cope. I didn’t go into the game expecting to lose but we knew it would be a tough game; the belief was there because of the players we had in that team, and the draw in Holland a month earlier had given us even more confidence.

We never felt we were a team who would be hammered, we didn’t have that fear, you should enjoy those games, away to a team of brilliant players in a great stadium in Lisbon. It was a great match to play in and we fully deserved the draw.

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Richard Dunne

Richard Dunne

Richard Dunne

And should this Ireland side get something in Portugal on Wednesday night, it will be seen as one of the country’s best ever results. We know the style Stephen Kenny wants to play; if it works on the big stage against Portugal it would be brilliant, that would be a sign of his ideas coming into place.

But Wednesday night is not the game to try and go toe-to-toe with Portugal in a passing game. We won’t have much of the ball and have to make the most of possession when we have it. You can’t go and defend for 90 minutes, as Stephen Kenny has said. You’re just waiting to get beaten if you do that.

You need to be proactive in what you are doing, and when you are up against a stronger side with a stronger squad you need to understand what your strengths are, and I’m not sure our strengths are in that midfield area, being creative, keeping possession.

If we play the same game as Portugal, make it nice and easy for them, it will be a long, long evening. We need to make it competitive and difficult for them.

Portugal have better players than Ireland so if we try to match them in a passing game, it won’t work, they are just a better passing side, they have far more creativity across their squad.

We need to play a game that disrupts their style and causes them problems, not have an approach where we just play in front of them for 90 minutes.

We have to play with a bit of desire and passion, make it hard for them, to not be afraid of sticking it behind their full-backs. We have to try and play in their half, instead of building up slowly.

So often with this Ireland team under Kenny, we have had possession, lots of possession, but always in front of the opposition, you are looking for your creative players to open things up, and I don’t think we have that in this squad.

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Portugal's Ruben Dias: One of the best defenders in the world. Photo: Pedro Nunes/REUTERS

Portugal's Ruben Dias: One of the best defenders in the world. Photo: Pedro Nunes/REUTERS

Portugal's Ruben Dias: One of the best defenders in the world. Photo: Pedro Nunes/REUTERS

If we try and match them in a passing game, we won’t be able to open them up. When you play a possession game, generally you use the width of the pitch, which means you are open, and that leaves you exposed.

This is the toughest test in the group, Portugal are the favourites to win the group, not just this game. They will know that there is a lot of defending to be done. For any player going into a game, you have to be excited to play against these players, to show what you can do.

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We’d expect Cristiano Ronaldo to play, so you’re coming up against one of the best players of all time; that’s a challenge for the whole team but especially the defenders.

And it’s not just Ronaldo, but Ronaldo going for the all-time scoring record. He just wants to score goals, whether that’s in training or in a game in the local park or in the European Championship final, he’s driven by scoring goals, and that’s why he has the records that he has.

Ronaldo hasn’t played yet this season so he’ll see this game as a chance to build up his fitness before he starts back with Manchester United.

He will see the Ireland game as a chance to get goals, he’d expect Portugal to dominate and have opportunities, he wants to be on the end of those and score.

If he is playing he will be desperate to score at every opportunity, so if the Irish players switch off for even a second, they are in trouble. Better players than this Irish defence have tried, and failed, to prevent Ronaldo from scoring.

But it’s not just him. The Portugal squad has so much talent there, a threat from every position so they can’t focus solely on Ronaldo.

I feel they will be disappointed with how they did at the Euros, they had a squad good enough to win it and they failed. They are not just looking at World Cup qualification, they’ll want to be seen as genuine contenders to go on and win it next year.

I really like Ruben Dias. He’s a leader, he organises the team around him. I was at a few of Manchester City’s pre-season friendlies, and you can hear him constantly, organising and shouting, getting people into position.

All great teams need an organiser and he fills that role really well. To me, Dias is pushing Virgil van Dijk to be the best defender in the world now, he’s not far off that level, and Joao Cancelo is another brilliant player in a great squad: in him Portugal have a full-back who is a real threat going forward as well.

So it’s a game where, if you are an Ireland player, you should focus on what you can do and not worry about Portugal as they can do almost anything.

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