Richard Dunne shook off the disappointment of dropping two World Cup qualification points by promising Italy the Republic of Ireland are not finished yet.
The 29-year-old Manchester City skipper got his side off to the perfect start against Bulgaria on Saturday evening when he headed them into the lead with just 40 seconds gone at Croke Park. However, after goalkeeper Dimitar Ivankov denied both Robbie Keane and Aiden McGeady, full-back Kevin Kilbane deflected Stiliyan Petrov's cross into his own net to hand the visitors a point.
With Italy winning 2-0 in Montenegro, Marcello Lippi's men will head into Wednesday night's showdown with the Irish in Bari two points clear at the top of Group Eight but Dunne has not given up hope of reeling in the world champions, saying; "The main aim was to keep them seven points below, and it was a bonus if we could make it 10."
He added: "The group is going to get really difficult now. We have played all the teams we should have picked up points against and it's going to be difficult for us.
"But we are still in a good position and we are more than confident that we can stay where we are, or even get to the top by the end."
The Ireland squad will fly out to Italy on Monday as manager Giovanni Trapattoni returns to his native country with his team for the first time.
He will do so with a debate raging on over the safety-first policy which has left Ireland undefeated in their five qualifiers to date, but having claimed few of their 11 points with any great comfort.
Trapattoni has adopted a very definite system which sees two central midfielders - Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews on Saturday night - sitting in front of the back four to allow the wingers to support strikers Keane and Kevin Doyle.
However, with McGeady still clearly feeling the effects of a foot injury - he did not train on Sunday because of a knee problem picked up in the game - and Damien Duff's deputy Stephen Hunt struggling to provide much meaningful service, the Republic repeatedly conceded possession and territory to Bulgaria and eventually paid the price.
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