We last qualified for the World Cup Finals in 2002 when we reached the round of 16 in South Korea (losing on penos to Spain, who we should have knocked out!, how things change quickly in world football) and Japan despite being devoid of our best player Roy Keane.
Martin O’Neill’s men picked up where they left off last summer and with four games of the qualifying tournament still to play we are yet to be beaten, with three wins and three draws under our belt. So far so good, and we had some luck in the games against Georgia and Serbia to boot.
But as well as O’Neill has done there is a nagging suspicion, well not a nag an outright boil of an itch that we ballsed up against Wales and Austria, now that’s not to say the draws weren’t fair results but we really ought to have gone out and played with a bit more belief and conviction and gone for the win, a lot earlier in the game.
The management say they go out to win every game, but that contradicts with the lineups and style of play we used in them. The last half hour in both the Wales and Austria games are really the only times we started to attack with menace.
Anything can happen in the rest of this group, but it looks very likely that if we want to have any chance of topping the group we need to beat Serbia at home.
Next up on September 2nd is a trip to face a Georgia side who have yet to win a game while three days later Serbia will visit Dublin in what looks set to be the pivotal match of the group.
Georgia away (I’d say they absolutely hate us for some of the jammy wins we have gotten from them recently) will be no easy three points, and at some point our luck might run out against the Georgians, who always play nice football but rarely ever get the results.
Serbia as the group has progressed have proved to be the best team in it so far. We probably should have lost that game 3-1 but Jeff Hendrick and Daryl Murphy bagged the goals in a 2-2 draw and for punters who fancy a flutter on the game, Bethut have all the information required on the best bookmaker sites available.
When we played Austria at home they were on the back of a long run of poor form and a manager on the verge of the sack. Wales were and are in the middle of a run of draws, both those teams at that time were an easier game then Serbia, and yet we never took the game to either team, we looked like a team set up and happy to get a draw.
O’Neill has made his team hard to beat and that has been the hallmark of this campaign to date, with only four goals conceded from six games, while table-topping Serbia are above us on goal difference.
So, O’Neill will in fairness, argue his point that it has worked so far, but surely he will want to top the group, as our record in play offs against a top tier team has usually seen us lose out.
Finally Wales away (yikes), even if Wales have nothing to play for, they’ll have something to play for. But with the added niggle from the game in Dublin, both teams will be bloody determined and it could be as ugly (the luckless Seamus Coleman) as some of the tackles in that match. Gareth Bale should probably have been sent off, some of the Irish players could’ve gone for elbows, and to top it off Chris Coleman the Wales manager was anything but diplomatic after the game despite his player having cut Coleman’s leg in two.
So we are left with three tough games and you’d expect a home win against Moldova, but when the dust settles on this group it could be a case if only when we look at the Wales and Austria home games.
Prediction: Ireland to finish 2nd
Words: Enda McInerney