O’Neill’s Ireland ready to seize Euro 2016 play-off chance


Lee Gormley | November 10, 2015

Irish ready for Bosnia battle

Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland got their just rewards for a defiant Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, securing third-place to gain a play-off position against Bosnia and Herzegovina, following a sensational victory over Germany among other impressive results.

In their final qualifying outings, the Boys in Green thrashed minnows Gibraltar, narrowly edged out Georgia and then famously toppled last summer’s World Cup winners in Dublin, before a loss to Poland summoned them to the play-offs, rather than an automatic spot in France.

Although, having already overcome many obstacles to reach this decisive stage, O’Neill’s men will take on their next south Eastern European opposition as 16/5 outsiders with Coral, and hold many new challenges threatening to derail their best-laid plans.

O’Neill wants Irish fight

Ireland will travel to the Bilino Polje on Friday night with plenty of injury and suspension concerns, but O’Neill has challenged his driven squad to make good of their fantastic opportunity and rally towards the France finals.

“I don’t think the players will be swayed by that [absences]. They will feel after Germany that they are capable of getting a result,” stated the Derry-born boss.

“Make no mistake about it, the games will be difficult, but you wouldn’t be expecting any sort of walk-over in play-off games.

“We don’t want to throw it away..”

“We have to stay overnight because we can’t get back here to Dublin on the Friday, so we stay on Saturday, get back and get ourselves prepared for the second game.

“But there’s no point in preparing for the second game if you haven’t done the preparation for the first one.

“The momentum swinging towards them [Bosnia] doesn’t bother me, it genuinely doesn’t bother me. We have got ourselves into this position and we don’t want to throw it away lightly.”

Irish injury and suspension woes

Qualifying stalwarts John O’Shea and Jonathan Walters are both suspended for the first leg encounter, with the latter Sunderland defender also facing a race to be fit for the second leg, after suffering a hamstring injury.

With dynamic attackers such as Miralem Pjanic and Roma marksman Edin Dzeko set to test a resilient Irish rear guard, O’Shea will be a truly great miss, especially if he is forced to sit out the return leg at the Aviva Stadium as well.

Other headaches for O’Neill come in the form of veteran stopper Shay Given also being ruled out through a knee injury and striker David McGoldrick missing out too.

Rob Elliot, O’Shea, Paul McShane, Alan Judge, and Shane Long will all be assessed by their respective clubs before reporting for international duty, but have been included in O’Neill’s narrowed-down squad for the Bosnia battle.

Long wait for Saints star

Long struck the historic winner over Germany in Dublin in that 1-0 victory, but the Southampton hitman has not featured in competitive action since, potentially limiting O’Neill’s options further in an upcoming match-up which the hosts are 15/8 to win to nil.

“Shane [Long] has seen a specialist, I think he got an injection and he hasn’t ruled himself out yet at this moment. Naturally, he hasn’t done that much work since he came off against Poland,” explained O’Neill.

“That again might be one where the next couple of days would tell us just about everything, but it would be great if he felt after the injection that his foot was fine and he was raring to go.

“[O’Shea is] not feeling too bad, but we’ll see. I think he thought the Sunderland game at the weekend might have come a wee bit too early, but there are a few extra days and we’ll see how he is by Wednesday.”

Play-offs deserved

Having earned their place in the play-offs amongst the likes of a Zlatan Ibrahimovic-led Sweden, a talented Denmark outfit and, of course, their drawn opponents Bosnia and Herzegovina, O’Neill openly admitted he would have taken this outcome last September when proceedings began.

“We have earned the right to be there [in play-offs], particularly with our results against the world champions, and we have accumulated the points. We are pleased to be here,” continued the Irish boss.

“I think if you had mentioned to me a way back when the group was first introduced that we would have a home and away match in the play-offs to try to qualify regardless of who was available for us at the time, I probably would have taken that.”

Ireland were present for the previous European Championships in Poland and Ukraine in 2012, but failed miserably during the finals under former boss Giovanni Trapattoni. O’Neill will look to lead his men to France for a more positive campaign, but must overcome the daunting threat of Bosnia and Herzegovina first, with the Irish 8/1 to win and both teams score on their travels this Friday night.


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