A fantastic result, illuminated by a wonderful Robbie Brady goal.
From a distance it is hard to quantify the nerves that had set in for Irish supporters before this playoff tie for Euro 2016 in Zenica. The initial feeling following the draw was one of quiet satisfaction but the more we learnt about Bosnia & Herzegovina, the more we worried about them. With 5 of their players in Champions League action in 2015/16 (versus none for Ireland) and relative household names in their team such Dzeko, Pjanic and Bergovic this amounted to a huge hurdle on the road to France. Allied to this was the absence on the Irish side (through injury and suspension) of several key players such as John O’Shea, Jon Walters and Shane Long.
Against that backdrop and a compact, yet vociferous Stadion Bilino Polje the odds did not look good. The way it transpired however makes it look as if the Bosnian threat was somewhat overegged, at least on this showing, with their offensive and defensive capabilities short of what you might call top tier. The flipside of this of course is that the Republic of Ireland are some way short of that exalted status as well and this game did little to trouble that view.
What Ireland have however is an ability to graft and give of their all for 90 minutes no matter what circumstances they find themselves in. And in Zenica it didn’t come much more bizarre than the thick flume of fog that enveloped the pitch for the entire second half. It was a minor miracle that referee Felix Brych allowed the game to continue because visibility was extremely poor with much of the action lost on both spectators in the ground and those tuning in at home.
Individual Irish performances
This was a strange match and performance from Ireland which will soon be forgotten because ultimately it was a fine result. Wes Hoolahan, playing from the start and in his first competitive away game, was entirely anonymous though his replacement James McClean smartened things up in the opposition half. Robbie Brady’s deliveries were uniformly poor, though we’ll forgive him given his second half intervention. The central midfield pairing of McCarthy and Whelan were effective to some degree but offensively they offered very little. The patently unfit Stephen Ward was replaced on 67 minutes with a more comfortable Marc Wilson and Daryl Murphy did what you’d expect of him by running his legs to stumps with little or no reward.
Getting our foggy due
Such was the thick fog in the second half that Ireland had scored their 82nd goal and Robbie Brady had reeled away in celebration before the Irish fans realised what had happened. A pitchside camera picked up on Brady’s endeavours and it was a goal all of his own making as he deceived several defenders before lashing a ball from outside the box inside Asmir Begovic’s near post.
Up to that point the second half had followed the precedent of the first with poor play from both sides and a lack of penetration up front. When a good chance did fall to the Bosnians, after a poor Irish clearance cannoned off a Bosnia, Darren Randolph was on hand to make two smart saves to keep Ireland in the game. Randolph proved again what a steady performer he is and how he has jumped to the front of the queue as the last line of our defence.
Bosnia fightback and hope
Unfortunately Ireland’s lead only lasted 3 minutes when following an accurate cross from the right wing Bosnian captain Edin Dzeko calmly, but assuredly, sidefooted to the Irish net on 85 minutes. It was a rare slip-up from an Irish defence that had looked solid with Ciaran Clark and man-of-the-match Richard Keogh absorbing whatever the Bosnians threw at them.
Dzeko’s goal inevitably lead to several tense moments for the Irish as the remainder of the game slowly ticked by. Thankfully, the Boys in Green would have their draw and with the added bonus of an away goal, which means that if the Bosnian’s are kept scoreless in Dublin next Monday Ireland will qualify for the European Championships in France 2016. With Jon Walters, John O’Shea and Shane Long likely to slot back in Ireland could improve, the danger being that Bosnia can’t get any worse that they were in Zenica. All to play for, all to sing for.
Bosnia-Herzegovina: Asmir Begovic, Mensur Mujdza (Ognjen Vranjes 51 mins), Emir Spahic, Toni Sunjic, Ervin Zukanovic, Edin Visca (Milan Duric, 73 mins), Miralem Pjanic, Edin Cocalic, Senad Lulic,Vedad Ibisevic, Edin Dzeko (Captain).
Republic of Ireland: Darren Randolph, Seamus Coleman, Ciaran Clark, Richard Keogh, Stephen Ward (Marc Wilson 67 mins), Jeff Hendrick, Glenn Whelan (Captain), James McCarthy, Robbie Brady, Wes Hoolahan (James McClean 60), Daryl Murphy.
- Author: Kevin Dunphy