Sunday 11 December 2016

Will Hoolahan get his chance and what role awaits Robbie Keane? Five Irish talking points v Bosnia

Damian Spellman

Published 12/11/2015 | 18:37

Wes Hoolahan and Robbie Keane will hope to link up
Wes Hoolahan and Robbie Keane will hope to link up

Martin O'Neill will send the Republic of Ireland into Euro 2016 play-off battle with Bosnia-Herzegovina in Zenica on Friday evening with a trip to next summer's finals tantalisingly within reach.

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Here are some of the major talking points ahead of the first leg of the showdown.

WHO WILL DEPUTISE FOR INJURED KEEPER SHAY GIVEN?

Darren Randolph was the man thrown in at the deep end when Given damaged his knee during last month's famous 1-0 victory over world champions Germany, and he retained his place for the 2-1 defeat in Poland three days later. O'Neill's options have been limited by the withdrawals from the squad of Rob Elliot and Keiren Westwood in the last few days, leaving David Forde and late addition Stephen Henderson to challenge Randolph.

HOW COSTLY WILL THE SUSPENSION OF JOHN O'SHEA AND JONATHAN WALTERS PROVE?

Central defender O'Shea's 108 senior international caps say everything about how important he is to O'Neill's team and his absence following a red card in the final qualifier in Poland last month represents a sizeable blow.

However, Richard Keogh, Marc Wilson and Ciaran Clark will all believe they can deputise ably and it seems certain that two of the three will be asked to pair up at the heart of the Ireland rearguard in a bid to repel star striker Edin Dzeko and his team-mates.

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Walters' ban, courtesy of the third yellow card of the campaign he collected in Warsaw, robs the Republic of his brawn and endeavour either in attack or as a makeshift midfielder. With Long also absent, Daryl Murphy is O'Neill's only potential battering ram.

WHAT APPROACH WILL O'NEILL TAKE IN ZENICA?

The manager has made little secret of what he requires from a difficult trip to Bosnia. At the most basic level, his aim is to return to Dublin with something to play for in the second leg on Monday evening.

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In an ideal world, that would be a lead, but a clean sheet or an away goal and in the best case scenario, both - could prove invaluable.

WILL WES HOOLAHAN GET A CHANCE TO SHINE IN ZENICA?

Hoolahan is undoubtedly one of the most talented players in the Irish squad and his ability to thread a pass could be key in these two games. However, O'Neill is not convinced he can produce his best twice in four days and he faces a big decision over whether or not to keep his powder dry for the return leg at the Aviva Stadium amid a clamour for his inclusion.

COULD ROBBIE KEANE YET HAVE A DECISIVE ROLE TO PLAY IN THIS TIE?

Ireland record caps holder and goal scorer - he has scored 67 times for his country in 143 senior appearances - is no longer regarded as a regular starter.

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However, the 35-year-old remains convinced he can still score goals if he is given opportunities and retains to knack to find space in a penalty area where others do not, if perhaps not quite as frequently as he once did.

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