Bosnia mission starts now for eager Martin O'Neill
Published 19/10/2015 | 02:30
For Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane, the serious business of the trip into unknown territory for a Euro 2016 play-off with Bosnia-Herzegovina will start with a marathon scouting session in a Birmingham hotel on Thursday.
A pair of games between two nations that have never met competitively before stand between Ireland and the Euro finals in France, and O'Neill admitted after yesterday's proceedings at UEFA HQ in Nyon that drawing the emerging nation was preferable to the nightmare scenario of a daunting date with Ukraine.
The fact that the decisive second leg will take place in Dublin is an added bonus.
Still, the Irish boss knows that an opponent rich in attacking talent will present a stern test. Bosnia, who qualified for last summer's World Cup, were the highest-ranked side in the seeded pot by virtue of their UEFA co-efficient.
The hangover from Brazil is the excuse given for a tardy start to a group led by Belgium and Wales which left them requiring five wins from their last six outings to nab third spot ahead of Israel and Cyprus.
O'Neill watched their dramatic 3-2 win away to the Cypriots in case it proved relevant and will get stuck into proper study this week ahead of 180 defining minutes.
That's why he will break from the usual strategy and send his squad some homework which he expects them to fit in around their club and personal commitments. The details will be thrashed out later this week.
"The advantage these days is that the information is at your fingertips," explained O'Neill.
"Ger Dunne, who runs it (analysis) for us is very, very good and we'll meet with him on Thursday. We'll run over it with Roy, myself and the backroom staff.
"We always meet up in some place in Birmingham. We'll spend the day running through all their games from morning until night. We'll have as much information, not only for ourselves, but to try and impart some of this in an almost folded up version to the players. We'll have DVDs sent to them.
"I had this idea that they only feel they get time when they leave their club. But I think it would be worthwhile now (to believe) that a little 15-minute DVD for the players in their leisure time between (club) games won't be a real bother.
"So that when they do meet up, they will have a better idea of some of the players they're facing."
A good number of O'Neill's squad will have encountered Edin Dzeko during his stint with Manchester City. Asmir Begovic, the Chelsea goalkeeper, is a former colleague of the Stoke contingent. Roma playmaker Miralem Pjanic is a quality operator.
O'Neill is conscious that other members of the Bosnian dressing-room may be less familiar to those Irish panellists who pay little attention to football outside their own territory. He describes Aiden McGeady as a football student. He is a rare example.
Everton midfielder Mo Besic will be familiar to the Irish camp, although he will be absent from the first leg in Zenica due to suspension, along with John O'Shea and Jonathan Walters. O'Neill's immediate focus is on crafting a strategy for the heat of a compact 12,000-capacity stadium which has limited scope for away fans.
The FAI have requested 1,200 tickets for a venue which is located an hour's drive from the capital Sarajevo but fear they will be restricted to half that amount.
On the pitch, O'Neill will have to keep it tight against a dangerous strikeforce, yet he accepts that the value of an away goal has to be factored in.
"There is no point shutting up shop," he said.
That Zenica joust is pencilled in for Friday the 13th, which lends itself to easy headlines about the need to avoid a horror show.
That drew O'Neill into a chat about superstition which he didn't seem wholly comfortable with. "I'll not go there," he concluded.
His fingers are crossed when it comes to fitness issues, however. He reported that Shane Long remains optimistic that he will recover from his ankle ligament complaint, while he is anxious for Shay Given and Ciaran Clark to return to full fitness; the latter is a prospective deputy for O'Shea.
Ireland's conquering of Germany has won them respect from Bosnia, who favoured Slovenia from the unseeded hat.
What the new rivals share in common is a fear of injuries drastically weakening their small pool of key players.
"That's the most important thing," said their coach Mehmed Bazdarevic.
"We have the capacity to eliminate the Irish. The only negative is the second leg being away - I wish it was the other way around."
Turkish-based defender Ognjen Vranjes was far more bullish in his assessment of the tie. "Unlucky? I don't think so," he argued. "It was the Republic of Ireland who were unlucky in the draw. They are up against the most difficult opposition they could have asked for.
"I am not trying to underestimate Ireland but I think Wales have better players."
The Welsh only took a solitary point from the Balkan nation en route to France, with hard work elsewhere booking their ticket. O'Neill will speak to his Welsh counterpart Chris Coleman. "It's nice to be helpful when you've already qualified," he joked.
Of course, Ireland and Wales will be fighting it out in the next World Cup campaign and, while there is a general expectation that O'Neill and the FAI will be able to thrash out a new contract to ensure he is in charge, he insisted he is in no hurry.
"My own view is that it would be great to carry on, particularly if John (Delaney) and the board want you to do so," he said. "Do you know what? Let's get these two important games out of the way first. Let's try and get there to France and see how we go."
It was put to O'Neill that this autumn has given him a taste of the excitement that the international sphere can offer, compared to the slow drag of his early months. He didn't argue.
"Because the matches are in quick succession, you're really into it," he enthused.
That said, the 63-year-old stopped short of describing the pressure as pleasurable. "I'm not sure there's ever any fun in being a manager," he said, with a wry smile.
Euro 2016 play-off draw details
First Legs (7.45) –
Nov 12: Norway v Hungary
Nov 13: Bosnia v Ireland
Nov 14: Ukraine v Slovenia (5.0), Sweden v Denmark
Second Legs (7.45) –
Nov 15: Hungary v Norway
Nov 16: Ireland v Bosnia
Nov 17: Denmark v Sweden, Slovenia v Ukraine
* Extra-time and penalties will be used to settle the ties if level after 180 minutes.
World Ranking: 30
Euros History: Never qualified
A 2012 friendly in Dublin where a Shane Long header gave Ireland a boost before they headed off to Poland.
The first captain of the Bosnia won 54 caps for Yugoslavia and represented them at the 1984 Euro finals. Played and managed in France.