Football/Soccer

Republic of Ireland hoping for perfect storm ahead of Moldova qualifier

Bristol City winger Callum O'Dowda could be an ace up Martin O'Neill's sleeve against Moldova Picture by Sportsfile
From Brendan Crossan in Abbotstown

2018 World Cup Qualifying Group D: Republic of Ireland v Moldova (Friday, Aviva Stadium, 7.45pm)

FOR the Republic of Ireland, the perfect scenario is Wales lose in Georgia tonight and the Irish grab an early goal against Moldova and saunter to a handy victory.

And the Green Army travels to Cardiff for Monday’s night’s mega World Cup Qualifier with the Welsh with more than just hope in their hearts.

Of course, that’s in a perfect world.

Even then the Republic’s World Cup hopes could still be derailed by finishing second in Group D and being ousted out of the play-offs by a meagre points tally and goal difference.

There are nine groups in European qualification but only eight second-placed teams will go forward to next month’s nail-biting play-offs.

The permutations aren’t looking good for the second-placed team in Group D, while there will be a few sweaty palms for those teams competing in Group E and H who are only slightly better off than Wales and Republic.

There could yet be some gloomy news awaiting Martin O’Neill’s men when the group stages conclude on Tuesday evening.

Right now, talk of endless permutations is wasted energy as there are a couple of important fences to jump before the calculators are needed.

In the build-up to tonight's fixtures the cards have fallen rather kindly for the Republic.

Wales enter the final stretch of Group D without injured Real Madrid star Gareth Bale and Chris Coleman’s men have an arduous return journey from Tbilisi to contend with compared to Ireland’s short flight to Cardiff on Sunday afternoon.

And there are no fresh injury worries to derail the Irish camp ahead of tonight’s clash with group minnows Moldova.

The absence of Jonathan Walters has been known for some time and if you’re going to pick up a suspension – as Robbie Brady and James McClean have done – it’s better to miss tonight’s tie than Monday’s monster clash in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.

“It’s important to put Wales on the backburner,” cautioned O’Neill, “and that is important for us to concentrate on the game ahead and I think that is what the players are doing.”

The fact that Wales will be clocking up the air miles in the early hours of tomorrow morning, O’Neill insisted, was of no consequence.

“The turnaround for both teams is exactly the same and that’s the point,” he said.

“We came from Tbilisi last month to play a home game against Serbia, it’s a long journey back but there are no excuses - it has to happen.”

In the absence of Walters, Brady and McClean, there are openings for the likes of David Meyler, Wes Hoolahan and Aidan McGeady to win starting berths against Moldova tonight.

O’Neill mentioned needing “invention” and “width” to “break down” the Moldovans.

The manager has always been a big fan of McGeady – but Callum O’Dowda of Bristol City could be the joker in the pack tonight.

Left-footed winger O’Dowda was a second-half substitute in Ireland’s 3-1 win over the Moldovans in Chisinau last October and he was thrust from the bench again in last month’s 1-0 home defeat to the Serbs.

“I’ve a lot of faith in him,” O’Neill said of O’Dowda.

“I brought him into the squad from the U21s and he’s beginning to flourish now; it’s good he’s getting more game-time at club level, which is very, very important.

“When he comes in, his little bits of training he does with us, he’s always been impressive.”

Shane Long is likely to spearhead the attack as the Irish look to slay Moldova in the early stages of tonight’s qualifier.

But a few rookies: Sean Maguire, Daryl Horgan (both Preston North End) and new recruit Scott Hogan (Aston Villa) could see some game-time.

“I think they have enjoyed it immensely,” O’Neill said of the new boys. “I think they are ready for it. I think if they were called upon to go in, whether it’s to start or go in, I think they will be ready.”

Earlier in the week, Stephen Ward remembered the inspirational words of Roy Keane and his role prior to their unforgettable Euro qualifier with Germany in Dublin two years ago.

With O’Neill expressing a desire to stay with the Republic beyond the current campaign, he acknowledged the importance of his assistant manager.

“Roy is obviously his own man and I’ve never shied away from this, that at some stage or other he will manage again.

“I was nearly going to say that he’s mellowed, but he’s certainly not done that at all.

“In fact, he might have got worse!

“But he’s been excellent for me, I must admit, he’s been excellent in the dressing room and I actually think he’s enjoying it here, too.

“Whatever decision we come to, I think he would be happy to go along with it. But I think at some stage or other, he will step into management himself.”

As for the hoopla over Roy Keane refusing a young Rory McIlroy an autograph some years ago, O’Neill wryly commented: “I haven’t really had a chance to speak to Roy about it.

“I think he’ll be fine. I feel if Rory wants an autograph, he’ll probably get it.”

Republic of Ireland (probable): Randolph, Christie, Ward, Clark, Duffy, Whelan, Meyler, Hendrick, Hoolahan, Long, McGeady

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