Jonathan Walters booked the Republic of Ireland’s place at next summer’s European Championship in France with a fine display against a lacklustre Bosnian side in Dublin on Monday night. After a solid performance last week in Sarajevo, Martin O’Neill’s men that either a goalless draw or a win would seal their destiny. It was to be the Stoke man’s night as his two goals secured the plane tickets and consecutive appearances in the European Championship for the first time.
The Boys in Green were the dominant team in the first half. They looked comfortable on the ball and their passing was close to being perfect. The visitors on the other hand looked uncomfortable and at times it seemed as if they had trouble settling into the game.
The Irish showed some glimpses of class in the early stages of the half. Robbie Brady played a nice one-two with Wes Hoolahan on the left side of box. They managed to put the defence on the back foot but unfortunately, Asmir Begovic was on hand to prevent the ball returning to Hoolahan, who had some space to shoot.
Martin O’Neill’s men were definitely up for it and they kept pouncing at the Bosnian defence, putting them under pressure and forcing mistakes. The Bosnian’s also showed they were no pushovers with some aggressive play within the half. Defender, Emir Spahic showed that his side was unwilling just to sit back throughout the 90 minutes. Half way through first 45 minutes, the Hamburg defender clattered into Jeff Hendrick to the floor. The referee had no problem reaching into his pocket and pulling out the first yellow card of the night.
Then the big talking point of the game happened. Daryl Murphy attempted to whip in a cross into the box. However, his effort was blocked by the hand of Erwin Zukanovic. Referee Bjorn Kulpers had no hesitation to point to the spot for a penalty. Walters stepped up confidently, sending former teammate, Begovic the wrong way and slotting the ball into the bottom left hand corner.
The Irish returned to the pitch for the second half and seemed to drop the pace initially. The visitors began to pile on some pressure in an attempt to make the tie all square. Bosnia also turned up the aggression as well. Sead Kolasinac seemed to strike defender Seamus Coleman in the face while walking away from a failed corner attempt. The referee missed the incident but gave a free kick nonetheless.
Spahic was also involved in some controversial incidents and the defender was lucky to still be on the pitch after some late challenges. Ireland were also lucky to have 11 men on the pitch after the final whistle. Substitute James McClean, was booked not long after coming on to the pitch and made some questionable challenges despite already having his name in the referee’s book.
Walters then added Ireland’s second goal of the night. Brady, whose set pieces had been mixed all night, whipped in a free kick from towards the area. The Bosnian defence tried to clear the attempt but ball landed at the feet of striker, Walters, who fired the ball low and past Begovic. The home crowd went wild as it hit home that Ireland were on their way to France next summer.
The visitors were quiet for the rest of the game. Their game was sloppy at times and they failed to trouble the Irish. Vedad Ibisevic came close in injury time to getting a goal back, however, his effort cracked off the woodwork. The Irish were not to denied the win and a clean sheet to match.
With qualification now secured, attention will turn to the draw in Paris on December 12th. The team and fans alike will be glued to their TVs to see who the Irish will face next summer – the dream of Whelan vs. Ronaldo is well and truly alive!
REP. OF IRELAND: Randolph, Coleman, Keogh, Clark, Brady, Hendrick, Whelan (C) (O’Shea 91′), McCarthy, Hoolahan (McClean 54′), Murphy (Long 54′), Walters
Substitutes: Forde, Henderson, Wilson, McGeady, Keane, Christie, Ward, Gibson, Arter
Goals: Walters (23′, 69′)
Yellow Cards: McClean (58′), Long (84′)
BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA: Begovic, Cocalic (Besic 45′), Spahic, Kolasinac, Vranjes, Medunjanin (Djuric 69′), Pjanic, Dzeko (C), Lulic (Ibisevic 80′), Zukanovic, Visca
Substitutes: Buric, Sehic, Bicakcic, Hodzic, Susic, Sunjic, Hajrovic, Hadzic, Salihovic
Yellow Cards: Spahic (19′), Lulic (24′), Djuric (93′), Dzeko (93′)
Referee: Bjorn Kulpers (NED)