Portugal are gunning for the top spot in Group A, which they could achieve with a win over a beleaguered and already eliminated Republic of Ireland side.
The Republic of Ireland’s World Cup qualification campaign could be best described as doomed in many regards, as they never found a foothold. While their form in the past months might have been slightly better, their winless run under manager Stephen Kenny might have hurt them to the point of no return.
Having already been eliminated, Ireland now host Portugal at the Aviva Stadium to achieve a result that could only bring pride rather than any hopes of qualifying. The Boys in Green have been without a World Cup berth since last qualifying for the tournament in 2002 when they had a terrible time in Japan and South Korea.
After six games without a win in the qualification group, Ireland managed one against Azerbaijan, scoring thrice without conceding. Callum Robinson was the hero of the game, scoring a brace, while Chiedozie Ogbene also managed to get himself on the scoresheet.
As a positive in the buildup to the Portugal clash, Ireland also recently had a 4-0 friendly win over World Cup hosts Qatar. Incidentally, they will enter the match unbeaten in their previous four international games across all competitions while scoring nine goals in that period. This run could end with the Portuguese coming to town.
Fernando Santos will be keeping his side on their toes as they aim to qualify as group winners. They are a point behind leaders Serbia, and a win would take Portugal above their rivals. With the two sides set to square off on Sunday, that result should decide the group winner, who can enter the World Cup directly while the second-placed team goes through the playoffs.
Portugal registered a 5-0 win over minnows Luxembourg last time out, wherein Cristiano Ronaldo scored a record-breaking hat-trick. The Manchester United forward became the first player to score ten international hat-tricks. Their squad depth will also play a crucial role in finishing at the top of the group, as Santos can change his team against Ireland before fielding his strongest side against Serbia on Sunday.
Portugal have scored 16 goals while conceding just twice throughout the qualifying campaign, winning their last five games in a row. In the reverse fixture against Ireland in September, Ronaldo grabbed the headlines after scoring yet another record-breaking goal, as his side were victorious with a 2-1 scoreline.
Team News & Tactics
Republic of Ireland
Ireland will have Alan Browne and Jayson Molumby back from suspension as Kenny looks to field a strong lineup in front of the home crowd. The manager is expected to adapt to a system with wing-backs accommodating the likes of James McClean and Matt Doherty, meaning we will see a back three.
Seamus Coleman will then be used as a right-sided centre-back. Callum Robinson is certainly expected to start on the attacking front after a recent surge in form in front of goal.
Teenage goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu, who kept out Ronaldo’s penalty in the previous round, might get another go at stopping the Manchester United forward from putting past him. He will be supported by the backline of Coleman, Shane Duffy and John Egan ahead.
Kenny will ideally keep a midfield three of Josh Cullen, Molumby and Jeff Hendrick, while Browne will take his place just behind the striker.
Probable Lineup (3-5-1-1): Bazunu; Coleman, Duffy, Egan; Doherty, Hendrick, Cullen, Molumby, McClean; Browne; Robinson
Santos will have to do without the services of Bernardo Silva, who picked up a muscle problem during Manchester City’s win at Old Trafford. His absence could open the door for Joao Felix to deputise. Meanwhile, left-back Nuno Mendes is suspended from the game after accumulating too many yellow cards.
The left-back slot will likely be taken by Joao Cancelo, as Santos has ample options to cover at right-back, with either Diogo Dalot or Nelson Semedo likely to feature.
In midfield, Ruben Neves, Joao Palhinha and Danilo Pereira are options to start in a three-man unit, whereas Joao Moutinho could also be included if Santos opts for more experience on the pitch.
Cristiano Ronaldo will undoubtedly lead the line alongside Diogo Jota, who will start on the right with Felix sticking to the left side. Ruben Dias will start in defence alongside Pepe, with Dalot and Cancelo on either side of the pair. Rui Patricio remains the undisputed choice to play in goal.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Patricio; Dalot, Pepe, Dias, Cancelo; Fernandes, Palinha, Moutinho; Jota, Ronaldo, Felix
- Ireland are unbeaten in their last four games in all competitions.
- Portugal won their previous clash against the Republic of Ireland at the Aviva Stadium back in 2005 with a 1-0 scoreline.
- Portugal have won five games in a row in all competitions.
- Portugal have won six of their last seven World Cup qualifying games.
- Portugal have scored at least two goals in their previous five World Cup qualifying games.
Player to Watch
There are several players in Portugal who can be key on the night, but it isn’t easy to take the spotlight away from Ronaldo when he’s on the pitch. In recent international games, the Manchester United forward has broken a few records and will aim to increase his goal tally when he takes the field against Ireland.
The superstar keeps performing at the club and international levels with great consistency without giving away any signs of ageing. He will personally be aiming for another goal-laden season, and games against teams such as Ireland could be the perfect opportunity to increase his numbers, as well as the influence he wields on the pitch.
Republic of Ireland 0-2 Portugal
It may be a game for Ireland to save some face after another disastrous World Cup qualification campaign. They will be motivated to salvage some pride in front of the home crowd, although Portugal come into this clash with the top spot in the group on the line.
With qualification to the World Cup imminent sooner than later, Portugal will want to enter Qatar as group winners rather than runners-up and go through the playoffs. We expect them to take home a win, which sets up the clash with Serbia on Sunday rather nicely.