Author: Lee Duffy
After a long, grueling qualifying campaign, the Republic of Ireland will now take on Denmark in a two-legged showdown for a place in next summers World Cup in Russia. But getting this far has been by no means straightforward. We take a look back at their campaign to date.
Valuable point in Belgrade
Serbia 2-2 Republic of Ireland
Ireland began their qualification campaign with a tricky trip to Belgrade to face the group’s top seeds Serbia in a rain-soaked Belgrade. Jeff Hendrick gave Ireland the best possible start by giving them the lead after just 4 minutes with the help of a deflection. Serbia fought back and turned the game around with the help of Southampton’s Dusan Tadic, before Daryl Murphy saved an invaluable point for Ireland ten minutes from time with his first senior international goal.
Coleman sees off Georgia
Republic of Ireland 1-0 Georgia
The next assignment for Martin O’ Neills men was a home tie with Georgia. Ireland had been victorious in all of their previous encounters with Georgia, and this one was to be no different. Struggling to find a way past the Georgians for the best part of the game, it took a piece of solo magic from skipper Seamus Coleman just before the hour to seal all 3 points for Ireland in a game that will not live too long in the memory of most.
Fast start sets up win in Moldova
Moldova 1-3 Republic of Ireland
Three days after their victory over Georgia in Dublin, Ireland travelled to Chisinau to face group minnows Moldova. A goal in the 2nd minute from Shane Long sent Ireland on the way to all 3 points early on, but an equaliser from Igor Bugaev just before the break gave Ireland something to think about at half-time. A spirited second half performance from Ireland saw James McClean score twice to ensure his side stayed joint top of group D.
McClean has good night in Vienna
Austria 0-1 Republic of Ireland
In their final game of a memorable 2016, Ireland headed to Austria in the hope of a result that kept them in touch with the front runners of the group. The boys in green struggled in the first half, with some resolute defending and superb goalkeeping from Darren Randolph kept the score at 0-0 going into half-time.
It only took 3 minutes of the second half for the deadlock to be broken, and in true Ireland fashion, the smash and grab was on. A counter attack started by makeshift right back David Meyler, who found Wes Hoolahan in acres of space in the centre circle. Hoolahan was able to take his time and pick out James McClean, who was making a darting run down the left wing. The Derryman set himself before smashing the ball through the legs of the goalkeeper to give Ireland the lead, and ultimately all 3 points. Victory in Vienna was the first time that Ireland had won away from home against a team ranked higher than them in over twenty-five years.
Ireland lose Coleman in frustrating draw
Republic of Ireland 0-0 Wales
The Boys in Green were looking to start 2017 as they ended 2016, and beating Wales would have done just that. But in a game that was largely uneventful until after the hour, it burst into life after a horrendous tackle from Wales’ Neil Taylor left Ireland captain Seamus Coleman with a double leg fracture that would see him miss the rest of the qualifying campaign. With Ireland failing to make their man advantage count, it ended honours even on the night.
Walters saves point to keep Ireland in the hunt
Republic of Ireland 1-1 Austria
The June international saw Austria visit the Aviva Stadium looking to kick start their own campaign after a string of poor results left them lagging behind in the hunt for qualification. The visitors took the lead on the half hour of a scrappy game which neither side managed to grab a foothold in.
Ireland pressed for an equaliser in the closing minutes, and 5 minutes from time, a floated ball upfield from Robbie Brady was met on the half volley by Jonathan Walters, who found the bottom corner and took the proverbial roof off the Aviva. The Republic were unlucky not to collect all 3 points, with a dubious decision to disallow a Shane Duffy header, when there did not seem to be much wrong with the challenge.
Disappointing performance in Georgia opens door for chasing pack
Georgia 1-1 Republic of Ireland
With Ireland in a commanding position in the group, Martin O’Neill knew the next 2 qualifiers against Georgia and Serbia would prove crucial to reaching Russia next summer. The first of those, a trip to face Georgia in Tbilisi couldn’t have started better. A goal from Shane Duffy after 4 minutes looked to have sent Ireland on their way to a routine victory. Ireland seemed to take the foot off the gas after edging ahead, and were made to pay ten minutes from the break, when Georgia scored a deserved equaliser through Valeri Qazaishvili.
The introduction of Aiden McGeady and Daryl Murphy in the second half failed to inspire an Ireland winner, which left them needing a win against group leaders Serbia in Dublin to keep alive their hopes of automatic qualification.
Kolorov and Serbia leave Ireland on brink of elimination
Republic of Ireland 0-1 Serbia
With Wales breathing down Irish throats, the Boys in Green needed a win at home to Serbia to keep their realistic hopes of qualification alive. In a cagey affair that saw few chances for either side, Serbia edged their noses in front through a thunderous effort from close range by Alexander Kolorov. The ball fell kindly to the former Manchester City defender and he made no mistake with the finish, seeing the ball rattle the bar on its way in.
Despite Serbia being reduced to ten men with twenty minutes remaining, Kolorov’s strike ended up being the only goal of the game, and the result left Serbia just a point away from automatic qualification, and after Wales overcame Moldova, it meant Ireland required 6 points from their final 2 games including a victory over Wales in Cardiff.
Routine victory sets up showdown in Cardiff
Republic of Ireland 2-0 Moldova
Ireland made sure that their bid to reach the World Cup went to the final game with a 2-0 win over bottom of the group Moldova in Dublin. Two first half goals from Daryl Murphy eased the pressure after Wales’ victory earlier in the evening away to Georgia. The win left Ireland on 16 points, 1 behind Wales,who were bidding to reach their first World Cup since 1958.
McClean’s magic moment creates history in Cardiff
Wales 0-1 Republic of Ireland
On a night where only a win would do, Ireland were out to create another piece of history by securing a playoff spot by slaying the Welsh dragon. After Scotland failed to win the night before, both sides needed a win to secure that final playoff spot. Wales were without their talisman Gareth Bale, and Ireland still without their captain Seamus Coleman. Wales created the better chances in the opening exchanges, but failed to take advantage of early Irish nerves. As the game progressed, the irish faithful were growing more confident that they could snatch the game away from Wales, and on 57 minutes, they did just that.
After capitalising on an error from both Wayne Hennessey and Ashley Williams, Jeff Hendrick did extremely well to keep the ball in play on the right hand side. He got to the end line before crossing the ball into the danger zone. A terrific dummy from Harry Arter let the ball bounce to the right foot of James McClean, whose strike into the bottom corner nearly took the net off the stanchion. Ireland lead on the hour mark.
Wales threw absolutely everything at Ireland for the final half hour, but to no avail. Martin O’Neill had masterminded yet another famous Ireland win, this time at the expense of a Welsh side who hadn’t lost at home since 2013. It was a famous win that will be remembered in the same regard as Stuttgart in 88, Giants stadium in 94, and most recently, Lille in 2016.
Now that the draw has been made, Ireland can now look forward to a difficult, but definitely winnable tie with Denmark. The Boys in Green are just 180 minutes away from their first World Cup since 2002, and writing another chapter in the rich history of Irish soccer.