Monday 26 September 2016

Jubilation as Jonathan Walters' brace sends Ireland to Euro 2016

Republic of Ireland 2 Bosnia and Herzegovina 0

Published 16/11/2015 | 20:32

They said that nights like this were consigned to the history books for Irish soccer, yet Martin O’Neill and his unlikely heroes have made us all believe again.

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Jonathan Walters' two goals that sealed victory in this game should be placed alongside Ray Houghton's at Giants Stadium, Robbie Keane' in Ibaraki and Shane Long's against Germany last month and now the Euro party we thought we would watch from home will be painted green after all.

Ireland's striker Jonathan Walters (C) celebrates after scoring his team's first goal from a penalty
Ireland's striker Jonathan Walters (C) celebrates after scoring his team's first goal from a penalty
Jon Walters of Republic of Ireland celebrates after he scoring from the penalty spot during the Euro 2016 play-off second leg match between the Republic of Ireland and Bosnia-Herzegovina at Aviva Stadium
Jon Walters #14 of the Republic of Ireland celebrates after scoring the opening goal from the penalty spot during the UEFA EURO 2016 Qualifier play off, second leg match between Republic of Ireland and Bosnia and Herzegovina at the Aviva Stadium
Jon Walters (R)of the Republic of Ireland is congratulated by teammates after scoring his team's second goal during the UEFA EURO 2016 Qualifier play off, second leg match between Republic of Ireland and Bosnia and Herzegovina at the Aviva Stadium
Jon Walters of the Republic of Ireland controls the ball under pressure from Sead Kolasinac of Bosnia and Herzegovina during the UEFA EURO 2016 Qualifier play off, second leg match between Republic of Ireland and Bosnia and Herzegovina at the Aviva Stadium
Jon Walters #14 of the Republic of Ireland celebrates after scoring the opening goal from the penalty spot. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Republic of Ireland's Jonathan Walters celebrates scoring their first goal Reuters / Cathal McNaughton
16 November 2015; Darren Randolph, Republic of Ireland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Play-off, 2nd Leg, Republic of Ireland v Bosnia and Herzegovina. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE
16 November 2015; James McCarthy, Republic of Ireland, in action against Haris Medunjanin, Bosnia and Herzegovina. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Play-off, 2nd Leg, Republic of Ireland v Bosnia and Herzegovina. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE
16 November 2015; Edin Deko, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in action against Wes Hoolahan and Jeff Hendrick, Republic of Ireland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Play-off, 2nd Leg, Republic of Ireland v Bosnia and Herzegovina. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE
16 November 2015; Miralem Pjanic, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in action against James McCarthy, Republic of Ireland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Play-off, 2nd Leg, Republic of Ireland v Bosnia and Herzegovina. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE
16 November 2015; Ciaran Clark, 12, Republic of Ireland, makes a defensive headder under pressure from Bosnia and Herzegovina. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Play-off, 2nd Leg, Republic of Ireland v Bosnia and Herzegovina. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
16 November 2015; Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill celebrates after Jonathan Walters scored his side's first goal. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Play-off, 2nd Leg, Republic of Ireland v Bosnia and Herzegovina. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
i16 November 2015; Daryl Murphy, Republic of Ireland, in action against Edin Cocalic, Bosnia and Herzegovina. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Play-off, 2nd Leg, Republic of Ireland v Bosnia and Herzegovina. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
16 November 2015; Jonathan Walters, Republic of Ireland, in action against Sead Kolainac, Bosnia and Herzegovina. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Play-off, 2nd Leg, Republic of Ireland v Bosnia and Herzegovina. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
16 November 2015; Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Play-off, 2nd Leg, Republic of Ireland v Bosnia and Herzegovina. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
16 November 2015; Supporters cheer as members of the Republic of Ireland team celebrate after Jonathan Walters scored their side's first goal from a penalty. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Play-off, 2nd Leg, Republic of Ireland v Bosnia and Herzegovina. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
16 November 2015; Jonathan Walters, 14, Republic of Ireland, celebrates after scoring his side's first goal from a penalty with team-mate Daryl Murphy. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Play-off, 2nd Leg, Republic of Ireland v Bosnia and Herzegovina. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
16 November 2015; Jonathan Walters, right, Republic of Ireland, celebrates after scoring his side's first goal from a penalty with team-mate Daryl Murphy. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Play-off, 2nd Leg, Republic of Ireland v Bosnia and Herzegovina. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Republic of Ireland's Seamus Coleman and Bosnia and Herzegovina's Senad Lulic (rear) battle for the ball during the UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Playoff second leg at the Aviva Stadium
Republic of Ireland's Jeff Hendrick (right) and Bosnia and Herzegovina's Ognjen Vranjes (left) battle for the ball during the UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Playoff second leg at the Aviva Stadium
Republic of Ireland's Jonathan Walters (right) has a chance saved by Bosnia and Herzegovina goalkeeper Asmir Begovic (left) during the UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Playoff second leg at the Aviva Stadium
Republic of Ireland's Daryl Murphy and Bosnia & Herzegovina's Ervin Zukanovic Reuters / Cathal McNaughton Livepic
Republic of Ireland's Daryl Murphy (right) and Bosnia and Herzegovina's Emir Spahic (left) battle for the ball in the air during the UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Playoff second leg at the Aviva Stadium
General view as players and fans pause during a minutes silence in memory of the Paris attacks before the match Action Images via Reuters / Lee Smith
Seamus Coleman of the Republic of Ireland is tackled by Senad Lulic of Bosnia and Herzegovina during the UEFA EURO 2016 Qualifier play off, second leg match between Republic of Ireland and Bosnia and Herzegovina at the Aviva Stadium. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Edin Deko, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in action against James McCarthy, Republic of Ireland. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Play-off, 2nd Leg, Republic of Ireland v Bosnia and Herzegovina. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
Republic of Ireland's Jonathan Walters scores their first goal with a penalty Action Images via Reuters / Lee Smith Livepic
A Republic of Ireland supporter ahead of the game. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Play-off, 2nd Leg, Republic of Ireland v Bosnia and Herzegovina. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
Republic of Ireland's Jonathan Walters (right) and Bosnia and Herzegovina's Ognjen Vranjes (left) battle for the ball during the UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Playoff second leg at the Aviva Stadium
Republic of Ireland's Robert Brady (right) and Bosnia and Herzegovina's Edin Cocalic (left) battle for the ball during the UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Playoff second leg at the Aviva Stadium
Republic of Ireland's Wes Hoolahan during the UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Playoff second leg at the Aviva Stadium
Bosnia and Herzegovina goalkeeper Asmir Begovic saves an attempt on goal by Republic of Ireland's Daryl Murphy during the UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Playoff second leg at the Aviva Stadium
Bosnia and Herzegovina goalkeeper Asmir Begovic during the UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Playoff second leg at the Aviva Stadium
Republic of Ireland's Jeff Hendrick during the UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Playoff second leg at the Aviva Stadium
Republic of Ireland's Jeff Hendrick (right) and Bosnia and Herzegovina's Ognjen Vranjes (left) battle for the ball during the UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Playoff second leg at the Aviva Stadium
Republic of Ireland's Jeff Hendrick during the UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Playoff second leg at the Aviva Stadium
Republic of Ireland's Daryl Murphy during the UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Playoff second leg at the Aviva Stadium
Republic of Ireland fans Shane Peppard (centre) with his son Clayton, aged 9, (left) and nephew Sean, 12, from Clondalkin during the UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Playoff second leg between Republic of Ireland and Bosnia and Herzegovina at the Aviva Stadium. Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Republic of Ireland's Richard Keogh and Ciaran Clark as Bosnia & Herzegovina's Haris Medunjanin looks dejected after missing a chance to score Reuters / Cathal McNaughton Livepic
Bosnia & Herzegovina's Haris Medunjanin looks dejected after missing a chance to score Reuters / Cathal McNaughton Livepic
Bosnia & Herzegovina's Haris Medunjanin looks dejected after missing a chance to score Reuters / Cathal McNaughton Livepic
Republic of Ireland's players during a minutes silence in memory of the Paris attacks before the match Reuters / Cathal McNaughton Livepic

The date of November 16th 2015 should be etched into our history as one of the finest for our national team, as qualification for Euro 2016 is as good an achievement as any that have gone before. This achievement is that good, make no mistake.

We had the breakthrough run to the World Cup quarter-finals in 1990, we had the heroics of USA’94 and the drama of Saipan the World Cup finals eight years after that, but those triumphs were created by a team loaded with players who were plying their trade at the top end of the English game.

What makes this qualification all the more special is the nature of the glory, with a team of battle hardened warriors who have turned water into wine, fantasy in reality.

Let's be honest, all of us have written off this Ireland team at some point in the last couple of years, with their lack of quality shining through every time they take to the field. Yet they have earned the right to be back among the teams that matter when the next major championships roll around.

For that, O’Neill and his assistant Roy Keane should take a chunk of the praise as their triumph is as unexpected as it is merited. Each and every one of the players they picked for these play-off games against Bosnia did their manager and our country proud and whatever happens from this point forward, let’s not forget that.

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Gutsy, determined and oozing with desire, this was an Ireland team that would not be beaten and as the final whistle confirmed what had become our inevitable progress to Euro 2016, our pride was not misplaced.

After the mysterious occasion that was the foggy showdown in Zenica on Friday night, the demands of this second leg could not have been more crystal clear.

If Ireland kept a clean sheet on their night of destiny at the Aviva Stadium, they would claim one of the final qualifying spots up for grabs at Euro 2016, which should have inspired the visitors to shake off the shackles that contained them amid their insipid display in the first meeting on home soil.

Clearly Bosnia were not the force that the pre-game hype had suggested, yet a side featuring the talents of Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic could not be as woeful as they had shown so far and yet it was Ireland that sprang out of the blocks quickest and, just for once, dominated the meaningful possession early on.

Aside from the two qualifiers against Gibraltar, Ireland had not been used to seeing the kind of sustained possession they enjoyed early on, with Bosnia’s nervous passes fuelling the already sizzling atmosphere inside a packed Aviva Stadium.

Jonathan Walters was so close to getting his toe on a Robbie Brady cross in the ninth minute, yet the Irish choir did not have to wait long to break into raucous voice as the match official contrived to award Ireland a 23rd minute penalty that was as poor a decision as we have seen so far in this soccer season.

We have long been baffled by the merit of the extra officials behind the goal, yet UEFA continue to insist their presence adds to the efficiency of decision making. Well, not for the first time, the system was highlighted to be flawed as Ervin Zukanovic was adjudged to have handled in the box as Darly Murphy fired in a cross.

Even if the ball did brush off Zukanovic arm – and TV replays did little to suggest it did – the notion that he had intended to handle the ball was ludicrous in the extreme and so five years after THAT handball from Thierry Henry in Paris, Ireland were the beneficiaries of a scandalous decision of their own.

Walters impressively executed penalty handed Ireland a lead that tipped the balance of the tie slightly more in their favour and yet only a second goal would give O’Neill’s men real breathing space, with a solitary goal in return for Bosnia leveling this tie and sending it back into the melting pot.

Ireland’s early optimism was replaced by concern in the final quarter of the first half as what appeared to be attack minded team selected by O’Neill suddenly became a backtracking unit that had little or not focal point to their attack.

A front three of Walters, Murphy and Wes Hoolahan – with Seamus Coleman and Robbie Brady providing some width - should have given Ireland plenty of attacking impetus, but all five of those inventive options pinned into their own half as Bosnia wrestled control of the game ahead of the interval.

O’Neill’s response in the second half was positive. Replacing Murphy with a Shane Long was a bold and brave move given the Southampton striker’s lack of action in recent weeks due to injury, while taking off Hoolahan and throwing James McClean into the fray was designed to stretch the game and inject some pace into the Irish ranks.

Bosnia’s pressure continued to mount as Ireland maneuvered their way towards the finishing line, but the tension building about all with a green heart ensured that the final furling of this game was always likely to be the most painful and agonising.

The next goal in this tie was likely to be decisive and, to the unrelenting delight of a nation that has waited for days like this to return, it was a hero in green who provided the killer blow.

After so many limp free-kicks in Ireland’s Euro 2016 qualifying push, Robbie Brady finally served up a ball into the box that gave his team-mates a chance to cause some damage and inevitably, it was the magnificent Walters who was on hand at the back post to side-foot home a game clincher.

Bosnia rattled the Ireland woodwork with a Vedad Ibisevic effort in the closing stages, but the Irish party was already underway by then on a night when our national team confirmed  once and for all that we no longer need to accept our status as also-rans on the world stage.

Ireland: Randolph, Coleman, Keogh, Clark, Brady, Whelan (C), McCarthy, Hendrick, Hoolahan (McClean 54), Walters (O’Shea 90), Murphy (Long 55).

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