Monday, November 16, 2015


A NATION HELD its breath again — and Jon Walters delivered, not once but twice.
Ireland are going to the European Championships in France next summer. The dream that once seemed like wishful thinking is now a reality.
Our reality.
The image of the big Stoke City striker, his arms flung wide in ecstasy after drilling a penalty past Asmir Begovic, will rightly go down as one of the iconic ones in Irish football history.
His first goal settled the nerves and convinced Ireland that not only was victory within their grasp, it was theirs to lose. His second, a level-headed finish from a Robbie Brady free on 70 minutes, rubber-stamped the passports.
Image result for jonathan waltersTo 1988 and 2012, we can now add 2016. A new generation of Joxer’s, their stories only half-written in Poland and Ukraine, will have a chance to finish what they started four years ago.
Walters made his mark where it matter the most, on the scoreboard, but this was a night littered with Irish heroes. Ciaran Clark was a defensive rock while Richard Keogh, going toe-to-toe with Edin Dzeko, was every bit as reliable alongside him.
Brady played with an authority far beyond his 23 years, and after a few false starts from set pieces, finally found the killer ball to break Bosnia’s stubborn challenge.
The sold-out Aviva Stadium crowd arrived needing no reminder of Ireland’s chequered play-off past. So near but yet so far, so many times.
But the new stadium is quickly becoming a fortress to resemble the old haunt on Lansdowne Road. Add another unforgettable night to the list.
Martin O’Neill has not lost a competitive game here as manager and, with the buzz of that historic night against Germany still ringing, the usual pessimism gave way to something resembling cautious optimism.
Friday night’s first leg proved that Bosnia were nothing to be feared and with Walters coming in for Stephen Ward as the only change, the starting XI reflected that.
O’Neill knew that sitting to protect the hard-earned away goal was a fool’s errand and Ireland took the game to their visitors, though the start was littered with mistakes on both sides.
It was a disciplined Irish performance, and while the chances may have been few and far between, the same held through for Mehmad Bazdarevic’s side.
The breakthrough came on 24 minutes, sprung from a moment of genuine creativity. From Seamus Coleman’s short throw-in, Wes Hoolahan flicked the ball back inside to Daryl Murphy who drove his way towards the Bosnian goal.
Ervin Zukanovic tried to twist his body into position as Murphy crossed, and although the ball struck the defender’s flailing arm and lost all of its zip, it’s hard to argue that it was deliberate.
Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers — the man who refereed the second leg against Estonia four years ago, and who might well be adopted as Ireland’s playoff mascot — barely hesitated before pointing to the spot. Bosnia protested as well they might and as the Aviva Stadium became a jittery mess, Walters remained the coolest man in the house.
He waited for Begovic to blink, the goalkeeper inching to his left, before drilling the ball into the opposite corner.
MARTIN O'NEILL & ROY KEANEBosnia arrived knowing that they needed at least one goal to have any chance of progressing, and they immediately set about their task with much more diligence. Within 60 seconds, Dzeko — who looked like he might indeed be carrying a knock — wriggled free of James McCarthy before crashing a shot into the side-netting. Randolph, who was never seriously troubled in that first half, had the danger covered.
Dzeko was involved again in the 34th minute to exploit a rare moment of confusion among the Irish back four. Neither Brady nor Clark challenged him in the air, allowing him to cushion a header to Hans Medunjanin, but the midfielder’s snapshot was always high and rising.
Miralem Pjanic, Roma’s lethal playmaker, dropped deeper and deeper in an attempt to influence proceedings and he nearly unlocked the Irish defence with a threaded through ball.
As in the first leg, Ireland’s left side was the most fruitful avenue for Bosnia’s attacks. Ognjen Vranjes and Edin Visca launched siege after siege but twice in quick succession, the rock-solid Clark intervened to clear before Randolph snuffed out another dangerous moment.
Ireland did have a chance to double their advantage before the break thanks to some brilliant link play by Glenn Whelan and Jeff Hendrick but Begovic did well to snatch the ball off Murphy’s head.
It was a brief respite from a period of Bosnian dominance which continued into the second half, and not long after the restart, Clark was perfectly positioned once again to flick Medunjanin’s whipped free over the bar to safety.
With Bosnia taking an ominous stranglehold, Martin O’Neill acted decisively to make changes. James McClean came on to replace Hoolahan, a mirror image of the change that paid dividends in Zenica on Friday night, while Shane Long — playing his first football in more than a month — relieved Murphy at the head of the line.
Pjanic nearly found Bosnia’s equaliser with a clever training-ground routine on the hour mark, but there were too many bodies blocking his path to goal.
And on 70 minutes, Brady finally found his mark. His whipped delivery from the left had the Bosnian defence on the back foot and Vranjes could only get enough of a touch to loop the ball up into the air.
Watching it drop, Walters steadied himself at the back post and rattled a shot so precise that it kissed the inside of the woodwork before nestling in the back of Begovic’s net.
Bosnia’s siege never lifted but Randolph and his defenders always did enough to quell the danger.
Here’s a sentence you can read and read and read between now and next summer: Ireland are going to France.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


The Republic of Ireland maintained their hopes of a Euro 2016 spot after they drew with Bosnia-Herzegovina in the play-off first leg in Zenica.

The game appeared in severe danger of being abandoned after half-time when the pitch became shrouded in thick fog.

Robbie Brady Scores For Ireland In Bosnia
However the Republic looked to have snatched victory when Robbie Brady hit a precious away goal on 82 minutes.

But Edin Dzeko levelled three minutes later to leave the play-off in the balance going into Monday's second leg.

Republic manager Martin O'Neill will hope the possible return of Shane Long, Jon Walters and John O'Shea will give them impetus for the Dublin contest.

Southampton striker Long may be available again after injury while O'Neill may also welcome back the influential O'Shea and Walters after suspension.

With the Republic having scored the away goal, a 0-0 draw at the Aviva Stadium will be enough to secure the Irish a finals berth in France.

Frantic finish in the fog after early stalemate

Robbie Brady's goal looked set to earn the Republic a precious first-leg victory

Brady struggled for much of the contest as both he and Republic left-back Stephen Ward found Bosnia right-sided midfielder Edin Visca a handful.

The Norwich winger's goal came in his only piece of attacking play of note as he cut inside Toni Sunuci before beating Bosnia's Chelsea goalkeeper Asmir Begovic at his near post with a shot from 14 yards.

Brady's goal could hardly be seen from the stands such was the fog that had enveloped the Bilino Polje Stadium in Zenica.

At that stage, the Irish - after being second best for most of the contest - looked on course to be in firm control of the play-off going into the second leg.

However, the Republic's left-sided flank was once again exploited three minutes later as Ognjen Vranjes got in behind Ireland substitute James McClean before squaring for Roma star Dzeko to poke past Darren Randolph.

Slack defending by Stoke's Marc Wilson allowed a cross to find Edin Dzeko and the lethal striker duly found the net to leave the first leg at 1-1.

Heading into Monday's return match at The Aviva Stadium, Ireland have the precious away-goal and while that may yet prove to be decisive, don't rule out Bosnia-Herzegovina scoring in Dublin.

However, Martin O'Neill's Ireland do have enough abought them to  get though the play-off tie and qualify for next Summer's Euro Finals.