So we enter the final straight for qualification into next summer’s European Championships, with eight teams looking for a last minute invite through the dreaded play-off. On Friday evening, the Republic of Ireland travel to Bosnia, who are hoping to qualify for their first Euro finals.
Baždarević brings hope after all appeared lost
The start of the qualification campaign was a disaster for Bosnia-Herzegovina and it seemed impossible for them to be able to claim a place at next summers A-list party in France. Enter new coach Mehmed Baždarević; His appointment not only galvanised the side in a way few could have imagined, to put them on the verge of an historic first appearance at the final’s, but transformed the country as their fanatical fans once again, get right behind the national team. Their home form has been the key with Bosnia unbeaten in their last four matches at the Stadio Bilino polje in Zenica. They also have two players who are right at the top of their game at the moment in Roma duo Miralem Pjanić (priced on the best football betting sites at *4.33 to be an anytime scorer) and Edin Džeko. Baždarević will be aware however, that a booking for either on Friday will put them out of the second leg in Dublin on Monday.
Irish camp besieged by doubts ahead of crucial clash
The Republic of Ireland travel to Bosnia with a team beset by injury, and with Assistant Manager and former Manchester United midfielder Roy Keane, using the media to criticise club managers for not allowing players who they believe not to be 100% fit, to join up with the squad ahead of their biggest game in two years. The European Championship play-offs bring back happy memories for the men in green however, after they secured their passage to what was ultimately, a disastrous 2012 tournament in Poland and the Ukraine via the same channels. Keane’s vitriol has overshadowed the build up to the game for the Irish, who will want to take something home from Zenica ahead of the second-leg at the Aviva Stadium on Monday. They are currently quoted at *2.00 on the best online sports betting sites to come through over the two encounters.
Everton defender Muhamed Bešić is missing through suspension for Friday’s game and as well as Pjanić and Džeko, Bosnia also have Asmir Begović, Anel Hadžić, Emir Spahić and Toni Šunjić just a booking away from missing the return in Dublin. On the positive side, Baždarević can call upon a pretty much full-strength team for the visit of the Irish.
Veteran goalkeeper Shay Given and striker David McGoldrick head a mounting injury list for Republic coach Martin O’Neill. He will also be without Sunderland defender John O’Shea and Stoke City striker Jonathan Walters for the trip to Zenica due to suspension. Southampton striker Shane Long, who scored the only time these two have met previously, is also a doubt as he tries to recover from an ankle injury.
PROBABLE STARTING XI’S
Bosnia-Herzegovina (4-3-3) Begović; Mujdža, Spahić, Šunjić, Zukanović; Pjanić, Hadžić, Sahilovic; Višć, Ibišević, Džeko
Rep of Ireland (4-4-2) Randolph; Coleman, Wilson, Keogh, Brady; Whelan, McCarthy, Hendrick, McClean: Keane, Long
HEAD TO HEAD
Friday evening will be the first time the two countries have met in a competitive fixture. Their only previous meeting was in a friendly encounter in Dublin in 2012, which the Irish won 1-0 thanks to a goal from Long.
Bosnia-Herzegovina 2.00 Draw 3.40 Rep of Ireland 4.33
*odds courtesy of Bet365
Steve Mitchell (@barafundler)