STUART DALLAS will become the first of three Leeds United stars looking to seal a place at next year’s World Cup finals tonight with Dallas admitting a place on the plane to the 2018 tournament in Russia would leave him ‘lost for words’.
Dallas, Pontus Jansson and Eunan O’Kane are all 180 minutes away from taking their countries to next year’s World Cup in Russia with the Whites’ triumvirate facing crucial two-legged play-off games over the next five days.
Winger Dallas is part of the Northern Ireland side that will host the first leg of their qualifying play-off against Switzerland tonight (7.45pm) before the return leg in Basel around Sunday tea-time.
Centre-back Jansson is part of the Sweden squad that will welcome Italy for the first leg of their qualifying play-off tomorrow evening before the return leg in Milan on Monday night.
Midfielder O’Kane has made the final trimmed-down Republic of Ireland squad as Martin O’Neill’s side prepare for the first leg of their qualifying play-off in Denmark on Saturday evening. The return leg takes place on Tuesday evening by which time Jansson and Dallas might have already booked their tickets to Russia.
And Dallas admits even the prospect of boarding the plane to the 2018 World Cup is something so exciting that it becomes difficult to comprehend.
“I don’t have the words to describe what it would mean to us and the people of Northern Ireland to get to the World Cup,” said Dallas.
“We are under no illusions about how hard it is going to be; Switzerland have world-class players.
“But we have a lot of experience, and playing at the Euros last year will stand us in good stead.”
Dallas has started six of Northern Ireland’s last seven games, despite by and large being kept to the substitute’s bench by Whites head coach Thomas Christiansen.
The winger was an unused substitute during last Saturday evening’s 3-1 loss at Brentford.
O’Kane, meanwhile, has made the final Republic of Ireland squad despite being taken off during the half-time break of Saturday’s loss at Griffin Park.
The defeat condemned Leeds to a fourth league loss in succession and seventh Championship defeat from their last nine games.
The Whites return to action a week on Sunday with an Elland Road showdown against a Middlesbrough side managed by former Whites head coach Garry Monk.
Leeds were top after seven games but now sit tenth and three points off the play-offs.
Leeds captain Liam Cooper is also away on international duty with Scotland, who host a friendly with the Netherlands tonight.
Winger Gjanni Alioski is away with Macedonia, who welcome Norway for a friendly on Saturday night, while young Dutch striker Jay-Roy Grot is on duty with Holland’s under-20s, who host Switzerland tomorrow night before Tuesday’s clash in Italy.
And United’s versatile centre-back and midfielder Conor Shaughnessy has been called into the Republic of Ireland’s under-21s squad ahead of next Tuesday’s 2017 Under-21 European Championships qualifier in Norway.