Thursday 23 November 2017

Comment: A chance meeting with Andy Reid was a reminder for how quickly a World Cup qualifying campaign can go all wrong

John Brennan

We've been here before you know, with an Irish football team.

A chance meeting with Andy Reid leaving the ground in Vienna last night brought back memories of Ireland's campaign to reach the 2006 World Cup Finals, qualifiers in which Reid was often an outstanding figure.

Ireland had to play Switzerland, France and Israel all away first, and Brian Kerr's team fashioned wonderful draws in all of them.

With the three countries to come to Dublin in 2005, hopes soared that the Boys in Green would make it Germany for back-to-back appearances on football's greatest stage.

Reid remembers ruefully what happened next. Ireland won none of the three ties at the old Lansdowne Road. "We were so unlucky against Israel, who got a freak goal. France were so afraid of Dublin that they brought Lilian Thuram and Zinedine Zidane out of retirement, and Zidane set up Thierry Henry for the winner and by the time we played Switzerland morale was on the floor."

Kerr paid for that failure with his job and it is a salutary lesson to those Irish fans now booking Russian lessons in advance of a trip to that vast country in 2018.

Ireland now have Wales (March), Austria (June) and Serbia (September) all to come at the Aviva Stadium next year. Throw in a home game against Group D minnows Moldova in October and four home wins added to the 10 points already bagged would surely see Ireland qualify.

But it will not be that simple, Ireland always find it hard to break down a team that sits back - which is what all away teams do in competitive ties.

Martin O'Neill's team got a second big break last night when Newcastle's Alexander Mitrovic struck late for Serbia to force a draw against Wales in Cardiff.

That means Wales are now four points behind Ireland, so a draw in Dublin for them in March preserves that status quo, which is not enough. Wales would be down to needing favours from other teams, and of course if Austria or Serbia were to provide it in Dublin, then those two countries would be helping themselves power ahead of Wales.

No, at some point next March, Gareth Bale's Wales are going to have to come out and go at Ireland and that will suit the Irish lads just fine. With Stephen Ward, James McCarthy and Shane Long to come back, O'Neill's resources stretch beyond the lads on duty in Vienna.

Robbie Brady's delivery from set-pieces will be missed that night because of suspension, but Ireland have enough about them to surprise a Welsh side, whose media seem to think they are far superior to Ireland.

They should look at the results, Ireland have won their last three matches, two of them away from home. Wales have drawn their last three matches, two of them at home.

So the pressure is on the Dragons when they come across the Irish Sea and won't Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane play on that.

Online Editors

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport