Thankfully we don’t have to wait much longer for tonight’s World Cup qualifier against Wales at the Aviva Stadium. The game is a sell out so there should be a cracking atmosphere in Dublin. The Boys in Green are top of Group D thanks to the 1-0 win away to Austria in November.
It’s seems like an age since that game in Vienna but that’s the nature of international football. During that time it looked Gareth Bale would be ruled out for Wales with an ankle injury but the Real Madrid man returned to action five weeks ago. Wales manager Chris Coleman has a full squad to choose from for the first time since they beat Belgium at Euro 2016.
However the same can’t be said for Martin O’Neill who will be forced to make changes due to injury and suspension. A lot has been said about the absentees but in reality I think the only players we’ll really miss are Robbie Brady and Wes Hoolahan. Without Brady, one thing you lose is that great set piece delivery and Hoolahan is the player that can find that defence splitting ball like he did in Austria and Moldova earlier in the campaign.
The Boys in Green are yet to lose a qualifier at the Aviva under O’Neill so that should give Irish fans reason to be optimistic ahead of tonight’s game. The Ireland boss has a few decisions to make with regards his team selection. Is James McCarthy fit enough to start such a crucial game? Can Aiden McGeady bring his club form into tonight’s game if given a chance?
I expect O’Neill to pick a back four of Coleman, Keogh, O’Shea and Ward in front of goalkeeper Darren Randolph who has been a regular for West Ham since November. Midfield is where it gets a bit trickier. Will he use a 4-2-3-1 with two holding players in midfield to protect the back four and some of the positions Gareth Bale could drift into. If that’s the case he’s likely to start James McCarthy (if fit) and then he has a choice of Glenn Whelan, David Meyler or Jeff Hendrick. We know Hendrick will start but it’s a case of where will he operate. The Burnley midfielder could be asked to play in a more advanced role with McClean on his left and Walters on his right, behind Shane Long.
McClean will wear the number 5 jersey as a tribute to his former Derry City team-mate Ryan McBride who passed away last weekend. McClean has scored our last three competitive goals and another one tonight would be a fitting tribute to his friend who was laid to rest in Derry yesterday. Aiden McGeady has played regular first team football with Preston and was named Championship player of the month in February. I expect the former Celtic winger to feature but he might have to settle for a place on the bench.
Wales manager Chris Coleman tends to play three at the back although he went with a four man defence against Serbia in November due to the absence of Ben Davies. Coleman played both Hal Robson-Kanu and Sam Vokes that night but Vokes usually plays up top beside Bale who has a license to roam. Wayne Hennesey will start in goal, captain Ashley Williams usually forms a back three with Davies and James Chester. Chris Gunter and Neil Taylor play as wing backs. Joe Allen, Joe Ledley and Aaron Ramsey are in central midfield behind Vokes and Bale.
A win for the Republic of Ireland tonight would send them seven points clear of Wales with five qualifiers to play and it would also keep us at least six points ahead of Austria who host Moldova tonight. Serbia could be top of the group by the time Ireland and Wales kick off in Dublin but that’s only if they win away to Georgia.
Both sets of players know each other well so there will be a derby feel to the game. It’s worth noting that Coleman, Ward and Walters are all on yellow cards heading into the game. A booking tonight would rule them out of the home game against Austria in June but Wales have five players on yellows, including Bale. Allen, Williams, Davies and Ledley will also be hoping Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli keeps his card in his pocket this evening or else the Welsh could be without some key players for their trip to Serbia in June.
Republic of Ireland v Wales - Aviva Stadium – kick off 7.45