Liam Lawrence has warned his Republic of Ireland team-mates their bid for Euro 2012 qualification could go all the way to the wire.
Giovanni Trapattoni's men entertain Macedonia at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday night sitting in second place in Group B, but locked together on seven points with Armenia and Slovakia and trailing leaders Russia by two.
Asked about the state of the group, the Portsmouth midfielder said: "I think it's close and it's going to be close throughout. There are still going to be one or two upsets yet because some of the smaller teams in our group are decent. There's still a long way to go yet and we have just got to get this Saturday out of the way and hopefully win the game."
He added: "These are the games that we need to win - and that's no disrespect to Macedonia. These are the games we have got to look at."
The Republic have a chequered history against the former Yugoslav republic having lost 3-2 to them in Skopje during the 1998 World Cup qualifying campaign and then seen their hopes of reaching the finals of Euro 2000 founder on a 1-1 draw in the same city two years later.
Trapattoni's men have taken enough scalps in recent seasons to know they themselves are now targets for some of the up and coming teams in European football, and that is something they must guard against.
Lawrence said: "These smaller countries do this to the bigger nations. I'm sure they give their best in every game, but it's just unlucky that they have been one of our bogey teams.
"Saturday is a big game and one in which we need to get a result. Definitely, we need to win the game if we are going to stand a chance of qualifying."
The squad met up in Dublin on Monday evening and trained at Malahide on Tuesday with several key men either missing or sitting out.
Aston Villa defender Richard Dunne joined his team-mates later in the day after staying in the Midlands for further treatment on his injured shoulder, but Trapattoni is hopeful that he will be able to play with experienced goalkeeper Shay Given and full-back John O'Shea both already ruled out.
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