Chris Coleman takes his Welsh side to face Ireland in an important Group D encounter of FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, with both teams yet to taste defeat.
Ireland are the surprise leaders of a Group D of the Qualifiers for the World Cup that includes Wales, Serbia and Austria as other contenders. The group was always expected to be very open, but it was Wales who were touted as the firm favourites.
However, the Irish have sneaked in on the back of some impressive performances. Wales, though, like Ireland are unbeaten thus far in the group, a feat Austria have matched. Yet, Chris Coleman’s side find themselves third on the table, with three draws and a single victory.
The Welsh know they have to win in Ireland to close the gap heading into the halfway mark of the Qualifiers. Ireland, on the other hand, could further cement their place at the top with a positive result against the Welsh.
We at The Hard Tackle take a closer look at the fixture.
Team News & Tactics
Martin O’Neill has had to endure a tough selection process, owing mostly to injuries, which has left him without five players who started in the 1-0 win over Austria in their last qualification match. The biggest blows will be Wes Hoolahan and Harry Arter, with the midfield duo sidelined due to a quad and calf injury respectively.
James McCarthy, though, has traveled with the squad but is still a doubt for the match. Martin O’Neill also reflected on the player’s current predicament, stating that the player is hopeful of making it to the match, which would be a huge boost to the Irish side.
O’Neill’s squad has the perfect blend of youth and experience. The back four is likely to consist of very cultured and experienced players, with John O’Shea leading the charge. James McCarthy and Shane Long are both doubts but are guaranteed starters if fit in time.
Jonathan Walters is set to be a key figure in attack for the Irish and could come into play in a more counter-attacking role and in harassing defenders up top.
Probable Lineup ( 4-3-3 ): Randolph; Coleman, Keogh, O’Shea, Ward; Meyler, Whelan, Hendrick; Walters, Long, McClean
Unlike O’Neill, Coleman does not have a single injury headache and is expected to name an almost identical lineup to the one that took the field at the European Championships in 2016. Coleman has persisted with a back three and is expected to do the same, in an attempt to provide more ammunition in attack.
Ashley Williams is expected to lead the defence and marshall his troops well while Ben Davies could show Tottenham his true potential with a great performance on Friday, in an attempt to be more involved in Spurs’ current Premier League campaign.
Joe Allen has been impressive for the national side and at club level too, since moving to Stoke City, and he will be expected to run the midfield.
Hal Robson Kanu looks set to partner Gareth Bale upfront and the Real Madrid marksman would be expected to take on an experienced but aged Irish defence on Friday.
Probable Lineup ( 3-5-2 ): Hennessey; Chester, Williams, Davies; Gunter, Ramsey, Allen, Ledley, Taylor; Hal-Robson Kanu, Bale
1. Ireland are undefeated in their last six encounters against Wales, drawing 3 and winning 3. The Irish have also managed to keep the Welsh side at bay in four of those meetings.
2. The last Welsh triumph against Ireland dates back to 1992, in a 1-0 win in Dublin.
3. Ireland are undefeated in their last 14 international games at the Aviva Stadium, with 9 wins and 5 draws to their name.
4. Jonathan Walters has scored six goals in his last seven home games for Ireland.
5. Gareth Bale (26) is just two shy of equaling Ian Rush (28) as Wales’ all-time highest goalscorer.
Player to Watch
Gareth Bale is undoubtedly the star attraction and is expected to do some scintillating stuff at the Aviva Stadium. In fairness, majority of the Welsh midfield and attack are superstars in their own right and are expected to dazzle on Friday.
However, the outcome of the match might just be reflected in how Darren Randolph is able to perform between the posts for the Republic of Ireland. The player is the current first-choice at West Ham United and has been putting in good performances, barring the most recent 3-2 home defeat to Leicester City.
The Welsh are likely to be the more ambitious and adventurous side and despite an experienced back four in front of him, the West Ham United custodian is to be tasked with the responsibility of neutralizing the attacks.
Republic of Ireland 1 – 2 Wales
Wales are expected to eke out a narrow win on Friday at the Aviva Stadium, owing directly to their superior firepower and the importance of the fixture for them with regard to the qualifying stage is concerned.
Ireland also have a lot of injury issues going into the match and if Darren Randolph isn’t up to the task, it might end up being a rout and not a narrow win for the Welsh side.