Tonight’s talking points
Martin O’neill will not be able to call upon two of his most influential players, Robbie Brady and james Mcclean, for the clash with Moldova after both picked up second yellow cards — in Brady’s case, for the second time in the campaign — against Serbia. That will rob Ireland of both creativity and pace and O’neill’s task will be to inject fresh inspiration and industry into his team as he decides how best to replace them. That the Republic still have a chance of qualifying for the finals is a testament to their resilience rather than their potency, with their eight games to date having yielded just nine goals and only two of them at home. Skipper Seamus Coleman’s winner against Georgia in October last year and jonathan Walters’ late equaliser against Austria in june represent their total haul in Dublin and, with victory essential and potentially morale-boosting ahead of Monday’s trip to second-placed Wales, a more adventurous approach may be necessary.
james Mccarthy’s international involvement in recent months has come at a cost with club manager Ronald koeman less than impressed with Ireland’s use of him in the wake of a series of niggling injuries. The Dutchman dispatched the midfielder to Dublin at the weekend under
Second place in the group may not be enough to secure a play-off berth with only eight of the nine runners-up going through to the knockout stage on the basis of their results against the sides finishing first, third, fourth and fifth. Group D, which contains Ireland and Wales, and Group H, where Bosnia-herzegovina are attempting to hold off Greece and Cyprus, currently share the lowest totals of the secondplaced teams, so realistically the Republic must win both their remaining games and then keep their fingers crossed.
O’neill has stuck largely with his tried and tested squad members, but had not been averse to the occasional surprise selection with Burnley defender kevin long’s competitive debut against the Austrians the most recent. His inclusion of uncapped trio Scott Hogan, Sean Maguire and Aiden O’brien in his final squad amid injury and suspension problems may have raised eyebrows, but both he and assistant Roy keane have insisted that one or more of the trio could be involved.
Words: Damian Spellman