What two Irish fans & writers told us ahead of Friday’s showdown
Ahead of the World Cup Qualifying Group D clash on Friday, we spoke to two Ireland fans and football writers about what they think is in-store for Ireland v Wales and the Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Y Ddraig: The Republic of Ireland are in the driving seat at the top of Group D, do you see this as a must-win match for Martin O’Neill’s men?
Feargal Brennan: I do see this as must win, as Ireland need to put some distance between themselves and Wales and Serbia, as a tense finale in Cardiff later in the year is not ideal. In saying that, particularly given the injury situation a draw would not be a bad result.
Phil Greene: 10 points out of the first 12 available is an uncharacteristically good start to a qualification campaign from Ireland and so this game is not as must-win as I might have foretasted when the group began. Even still, it is an important game to build momentum for the second half of qualifying, and a good home record will be vital if Ireland are to eventually qualify.
YD: Last time out, the Republic Of Ireland beat Austria 1–0 away from home, a crucial win. Do you think that’s a key result in your quest for qualification?
PG: This win was remarkable as it was something we are not used to seeing from Ireland: a big away win against a qualification rival. We have become accustomed to the cliched “good point” away from home in recent years, so to nick a win from a pretty turgid game was great.
FB: I do think that was a key win. All the talk prior to that game was ‘a draw in Vienna would be a good result’ but Ireland handled the Austrians well and performed above themselves in certain areas.
YD: Who are the key men for Ireland?
FB: Shane Long will be the big threat up front for Ireland, his pace and directness could cause real problems for Williams et al. McCLean, top scorer in qualifying, and Walters will both be dangerous. Fighters with pace that will look to isolate and unsettle full backs.
PG: We’re missing two of our best players for this games in Robbie Brady and Wes Hoolahan, who are suspended and injured respectively. Seamus Coleman is very important to a lot of what we do, in attack and defence, and Shane Long and Jon Walters will cause plenty of problems too. Quiet shout for Aiden McGeady, who is in great form for Preston at the minute.
YD: Tactically, how does Martin O’Neill line up his Ireland side?
PG: After years of 4–4–2 struggles under Trappatoni, MON has shown a willingness to mix things up slightly from time to time. He has deployed various forms of 4–3–2–1, 4–2–3–1, 4–3–3 and a 4–4–2 diamond since qualifying for Euro 2016. The key to O’Neill’s tactics is to ask a lot from his wingers in terms of covering ground and supporting both their fullbacks and the striker. Ireland’s injury problems make it difficult to say how exactly they’ll line up, though.
FB: Injuries have hit Ireland hard, no Duffy-Clark at the back, or Hoolahan, Arter or Brady (SUS) in midfield so their will be a reshuffle. Randolph in goal. Coleman, O’Shea, Keogh and Ward at the back. There is a slight possibility of Coleman playing centrally, to help with Bale, and Cyrus Christie at right back. McCarthy, Whelan and Hendrick in midfield. Walters, McClean out wide and Long up front. There is small chance of McGeady playing, give his form at PNE, but I imagine he will be an impact sub. Horgan at PNE and Conor Hourihane at Villa are two other potentials, but O’Neill will probably play it safe.
YD: Looking at the Welsh squad, who are you fearful of? Ramsey and Bale are the obvious ones, but does anyone else standout for you?
FB: Ramsey and Bale are obviously a threat. Bale’s pace will be a concern, as speed is something Ireland really lack in defence, aside from Coleman. Joe Allen also sticks out as a threat, he is clever in and around the box and can score key goals, arriving late into the area.
PG: Hal Robson Kanu has been causing a few ripples with West Brom recently, just in time for this game, which is worrying given how makeshift Ireland’s defence will be. Joe Allen developing an eye for goal makes him a different prospect too
YD: What do you make of Ben Woodburn’s call up? Do you think he’ll feature on Friday?
PG: Speaking as a Liverpool fan, I am maybe more aware of Woodburn than some other fans, but I can say with certainty that if Ireland had a 17 year old who was making substitute appearances for Liverpool, he would be in our squad too. The game is likely to be fairly blood and thunder so we might not see Woodburn make his bow come Friday
FB: Woodburn’s call up is great news for wales, I’ve been keeping an eye on him at LFC and he looks a real prospect. Not just his goals, he looks a clever player when he’s had to play deeper at times for LFC. I don’t expect him to start, but Coleman could give him a run out out in the second half.
YD: Finally, what is your score prediction?
FB: I am going for 1–1, but if ireland do not deal with the threat of Bale quickly Wales could have the edge.
PG: Ireland are a dogged team under MON, hard to beat and probably slightly (though only slightly) better on the ball than they are perceived. I think an Irish defence which will probably contain John O’Shea and Richard Keogh will struggle to contain Bale, so I reckon a scoring draw that probably won’t please either manager too much.