Friday 23 August 2019

Ronnie Whelan: Over-hyped Bosnians leave door wide open for Ireland

Read Ronnie Whelan exclusively in The Hearld

Seamus Coleman keeps Bosnia's Senad Lulic at bay
Seamus Coleman keeps Bosnia's Senad Lulic at bay

Herald Sport

It's a treacherous thing, an away goal. That's the reason Martin O'Neill must and will treat this as a one-off, winner takes all fixture against Bosnia.

The game takes place against a terrible background after events in Paris and the potential consequences for Euro 2016 but O'Neill and his players cannot get ahead of themselves and worry about tomorrow. There's a job to do tonight.

One thing was very clear from the first-leg in Zenica, even if the view wasn't. Bosnia were over-hyped and we gave them far too much credit. They have opened the door to Euro 2016.

Sure they have decent players, a couple more than decent, but when push came to shove on home turf, they lumped the ball into the murk and rolled the dice.

After Robbie Brady's touch of magic, a goal which in hindsight and a few more angles appear to tell us was helped by the fact that at least one defender lost the ball in the mist, Bosnia had reason to expect a bit of good fortune.

Their equaliser was better than hit and hope and in the moment when Edin Dzeko dabbed the ball to the net, the threat everyone worried about before the game emerged, swift and deadly.

Bosnia have nothing to lose now but they could easily freeze completely in what is certain to be a white-hot stadium. They froze in Brazil and I saw fear in their football in Zenica.

Ireland coped with any effort Pjanic made to run the pace of the game and credit is due for what was a very disciplined defensive performance front to back.

In fact, we got ourselves into the most trouble with an old bad habit; giving the ball away needlessly.

Bosnia's best moments usually started with a mistake.

In fact, Brady had more than one reason to celebrate his goal. He knows himself he had a poor enough game up to that point and there were several like him on the Ireland team.

But taken as a unit, they were good enough to blunt the best Bosnia had to offer until that final lapse in concentration and some sharp work from Dzeko.

To be honest, I was surprised that O'Neill picked the team he did but as the game unfolded, it was obvious that Wes Hoolahan would not be in a position to influence the game to the same extent as he did against Germany simply because the ball went over his head from almost every kick-out by Darren Randolph.

Assuming Hoolahan is fit and presuming O'Neill was factoring in the second-leg when he took him off after an hour, and he starts tonight, I would like to see a lot more from him on the ball and less of him staring up into the sky.

To be fair, I think we will get that. I think O'Neill understands the dynamic here very well and all around him he has lads who know the score.

Roy Keane, Robbie, John O'Shea. They have done everything in the game and are perfect anchors in situations of high pressure.

Jon Walters is a rock and an unnerving prospect for Bosnia. From their side, they have to be concerned about a player who has clearly been the most dangerous player for Ireland in every game he's played just as we look to Dzeko for a threat.

And if O'Shea comes back in, they will see him as a much decorated ex-Manchester United man and a formidable player who will only strengthen a defence they found very difficult to wrong-foot.

If O'Shea is fit, O'Neill will play him even if that will be tough on Ciaran Clark unless he shifts him across one position into the left-full slot.

O'Neill has shown himself to be constantly adaptable or constantly dithering depending on your viewpoint. As results pile up and qualification edges ever closer, he is answering the latter opinion emphatically even if he could still make three of four changes for this one and leave us scratching our heads again.

But none of that will matter if he can get through another 90 minutes, ideally without conceding a goal. One more big push can take Ireland all the way to France.

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