Republic of Ireland must put Wales under pressure from the start in World Cup qualifier says defender Stephen Ward
STEPHEN Ward has challenged the Republic of Ireland to pile pressure on Wales when the sides meet on Friday night with three precious World Cup qualifying points at stake.
A depleted Ireland host the Euro 2016 semi-finalists in Dublin sitting pretty at the top of Group D with 10 points from their opening four games - four more than the visitors from the same number of matches.
Ward is well aware of the threat posed by Gareth Bale and company after their heroics in France, but Ireland too returned from last summer’s tournament with their heads held high and the confidence they gained remains intact.
The Burnley full-back said: “From our point of view, we have taken a lot of confidence. Especially the younger lads and even the experienced lads have grown as players and that has shown in how we have started this campaign.
“Wales obviously finished on a high having got to the semi-finals and sometimes it can be difficult to keep those standards so high because that was an unbelievable achievement from them.
“We can only concentrate on ourselves and how we feel after the Euros. We feel we can go into any game now with the confidence to win.”
A home win over Georgia and victories in Moldova and Austria following a draw in Serbia have left the Republic in the driving seat with four of their remaining six games due to take place in Dublin, where they have been strong in recent seasons.
Injuries to Shane Duffy, Ciaran Clark, Harry Arter, Wes Hoolahan and Daryl Murphy, coupled with a lingering concern over James McCarthy and Robbie Brady’s absence through suspension have disrupted Martin O’Neill’s plans, although there is no sense of defeatism within the camp.
In the circumstances, a fourth win of the campaign could prove priceless, although Ward is not convinced even that would signal an end to Welsh hopes.
He said: “Things can change very quickly in these groups. I think most importantly, we need to approach the game and try to get the three points because it would be massive for us. It would be a nice cushion to have over a good side like them at the halfway point in the group.
“But I don’t think that we really concentrate on other teams. We know the rewards if we can win the game and if we do get the three points – which we’re going out there to do – we’ll put ourselves in a really strong position for the second half of the group.
“I think they [Wales] will probably be disappointed with a couple of the points that they’ve dropped, but we’ve got to concentrate on ourselves.”
That may be easier said than done with Real Madrid star Bale hoping to take advantage of O’Neill’s selection problems, and Ward is under no illusions as to the task ahead of the Irish defence.
Asked if Bale is another step up from what he is used to in the Premier League, he said: “He is probably a step up from everything.
“He is at one of the biggest clubs in the world and is playing well. As a team, we are going to try and nullify him, but it’s not going to be easy.
“It looks as though he has a free role for Wales and they’ll want to get him on the ball as much as possible.
“We’ll have to try to stop the service in to him and when he does get it, get as close as we can because you cannot afford to give a player of that ability too much space and too much time as you know he will hurt you.
“But he is not the only Welsh player that can hurt us, so we will have to be on our game all around the pitch.”