World Cup Qualifiers
Northern Ireland played host to Czech Republic in Windsor Park in their most recent game in their bid to achieve qualification for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. They headed into the game with confidence and a large home backing behind them, NI had already achieved 16 points going into the game and they knew a win would set them up nicely for a qualifying spot. They were only after winning five games on the trot, a first for any Northern Ireland international side, and are due to face Germany and Norway in their remaining games.
The game started with a fast pace with Czech holding most of the ball and creating more chances and it looked like they would be the team to open the scoring, however Michael O’Neill’s side had other plans as Johnny Evans scored a fine header on the 28th minute to the delight of the home fans. It was Evans’ second ever goal for his country, the centre-back was sought after by a number of clubs during the transfer window and it is plain to be seen why as he has been solid throughout the qualifying campaign, although the former Manchester United player refrained from moving clubs.
The ‘Green and White army’s’ captain, and West Brom player, Chris Brunt made the task even more difficult for the Czech Republic when he directed a sublime free-kick past the opposing goalkeeper to double his sides lead. This takes his total goals to two throughout the qualifiers, and was happy to contribute to retaining his teams impressive home record.
Despite showing early signs of promise, The Czech team found it an incredible task to get themselves back into the game and failed to grab one back after coming out of the break. They dominated possession throughout the game and were much more effective at producing chances but were unable to make any count unfortunately. Having only gained nine points so far in the qualifiers, they are now no longer able to secure a place at the World Cup, a feature they haven’t been able to do since they qualified in 2006. Northern Ireland on the other hand, are on track to achieve qualification for a world cup for the first time since 1986, and it will be the first time in their countries history that they will reach two consecutive tournaments.
Michael O’Neill was incredibly happy with the result and now no longer needs to get any points from the upcoming game against current world champions, Germany, which will be a huge weight off his shoulders. This current run of impressive form is also proof that NI reaching the 2016 European Championship was far from a one -off, and by the looks of things the form will be set to continue.
The Republic of Ireland haven’t been as fruitful in their attempt at qualification this time around, having had two poor results in a row they now face a difficult task ahead when they take on Wales next time out, with the winner securing that second-place spot in Group D. After having drew 1 a piece against Georgia on Saturday night, The Irish men were up against a tough team when they faced Serbia, the leaders of the group.
Martin O’Neill’s men came out roaring in the first half and looked a lot more lively and attacking than in their previous match as they had chance after chance. Defender Shane Duffy thought he had given his country the lead on the 10th minute however his attempt was ruled offside after he put the ball past the Serbian goalkeeper. Following this Shane Long also came very close to opening his account for the night when he hit a venomous striker heading for the top right corner, this was handed over the bar by Vladimir Stojkovic to keep Serbia in the game.
Aleksander Kolarov was the man to bring some life into the game in the second half when his left footed strike went in off the crossbar after being played through by a delightful pass from Kostic. This seemed eminent for the Serbians as they began to find their feet after the break, with chances from Aleksander Mitrovic coming close just prior to the goal. They were intent on slowing the game down and bringing Ireland down to their own pace, they committed fouls regularly and did everything they could to prevent the Green side from getting a goal.
Serbia were now in control after their opener but this period of content didn’t last as they went down to 10 men on the 68th minute when Miksimovic executed a challenge causing him to be suspended from the game. This opened the game up again and allowed the Republic of Ireland to create more chances in their search for the equaliser, striker Darryl Murphy thought he had earned his side a penalty 15 minutes from time when he was dragged down by Jago Vukovic but the referee waved to play on. They applied constant pressure for the rest of the game but couldn’t manage to put the ball in the net as Serbia put as many players as possible into their own half to defend their lead.
Wales are the next opponents for the Republic of Ireland, it will be a tough task for the Irishmen to travel to Wales and take points as the Welshmen are also after that second-place spot.
Moldova took on Wales at home in what turned out to be an interesting affair for both teams, Wales’ chances of qualification were slipping away from them up to this point so a win was a must. The home side made things difficult for their visitors, it wasn’t until late into the second half for the opener to strike.
The defence displayed by Moldova was tough and harsh, limiting their opponents attacking forces as strongly as they could. Wales controlled possession throughout the game but lacked that clinical spark when it came to an end product. Gareth Bale was forced to shoot from range, his closest shot was fumbled by Moldovan goalkeeper Cebanu, the goalie redeemed himself however when he coolly secured Aaron Ramsey’s rebound.
It seemed that the game was in Wales’ hands but they couldn’t just get the ball in the net, manager Chris Coleman decided to go with a 4-2-3-1 formation in order to provide more support for the striker and to allow more room for the wingers to spread the play, but so far it was no good. The game seemed to come alive and click into gear whenever Wales introduced the teenager Ben Woodburn fifteen minutes into the second half, the Liverpool forward injected the pace that the game was calling out for and it brought out the best in his fellow players.
On the 80th minute a breakthrough was made by the men in red, Woodburn made a surging run down the left towards the penalty area and whipped in a cross to find teammate Robson-Kanu who headed the ball in easily to the net. This came as a huge relief to the side who had struggled up front all game, and it appeared to be the beginning of the end for Moldova. Aaron Ramsey put the game to bed in injury time when his deflected shot made its way into Moldova’s goal to double their lead.
Things could have been different however as in between Welsh goals, Moldova substitute Andrei Cojocari hit a shot forcing Wayne Hennessey into a tough save. This would have definitely upset the game for Wales and possibly changed the layout of the table in Group D altogether.