Time- 19:45. Venue- Aviva Stadium, Dublin. TV– RTE 2, Sky Sports 1.
Ireland welcome Wales to the Aviva sitting pretty on top of qualifying Group D as we near the halfway point in the qualifying campaign. The two sides come into this fifth game unbeaten, however, the visitors trail Ireland by four points, meaning a win would bring them right back into contention, but, a loss leave them seven points adrift and Ireland almost out of sight.
Having enjoyed a successful European Championship last Summer, reaching the semi-final (only being eliminated by eventual champions, Portugal) and 4-0 victory in their opening qualifying game, Wales will be hoping that the fit again Gareth Bale can help them break a run of three consecutive draws.
Meanwhile, injuries have blighted Ireland’s preparation for the game they hope will continue the rich vein of form which has seen them pick up three wins and a draw from the opening four games.
Ireland v Wales is one of the highlight fixtures of the group, however, past fixtures between the sides have been anything but spectacular. Ireland have played several friendlies against Wales over the decades with the first competitive game not coming until the Euro 2008 qualifiers.
Ireland’s record against Wales is incredibly even, having played thirteen with five won, five lost and three drawn.
Ireland are enduring an injury crisis heading into the crucial clash with Wales, with as many as nine likely to sit out the game due to injury and star player, Robbie Brady, suspended.
Injured: Shane Duffy, Wes Hoolahan, Daryl Murphy, Ciaran Clark, Harry Arter, Paul McShane, Robbie Elliot and David McGoldrick.
Doubtful: James McCarthy.
Suspended: Robbie Brady.
Wales have had much better luck when it comes to injuries and will be boosted by the return from injury of talisman Gareth Bale.
Injured: Andrew Crofts, Jon Williams, Tom Lawrence, Simon Church.
Players To Watch: Ireland.
Despite having seen reduced game time in recent months, the Derry man will be a significant to the Welsh backline, without doubt. Irish assistant manager, Roy Keane, is by no means concerned either.
“James McClean not having played regularly does not keep me awake at night.”
– Roy Keane.
James’ last appearances in an Irish shirt have seen show top form, scoring three goals in two games, one of which was a crucial goal in a 1-0 victory over Austria.
The game will also be quite an emotional one for James, who will be wearing the number five jersey in memory of Derry City FC captain, Ryan McBride. In the week gone by he has mourned the passing of close friends, Ryan McBride and Martin McGuiness. Ireland manger, Martin O’Neill, believes James will be focused and physcologically ready.
“James plays with emotion anyway. If there’s anyone you can talk wearing his heart on his sleeve, that’s exactly it – almost literally.”
– Martin O’Neill.
Name James McClean.
From Derry, Ireland.
Club West Brom.
47 appearances, 8 goals.
Other Irish players to watch are Southampton striker Shane Long, who will always be remembered for his famous strike to take all three points from World Champions, Germany, in qualifying for Euro 2016. As well as captain Séamus Coleman, who is in a rich vein of form with Everton in the Premier League.
Players To Watch: Wales.
The obvious danger man for Ireland to deal with is Real Madrid Galactico, Gareth Bale. The pacey winger has only made two appearances for his club side, Real Madrid, since returning from the ankle that kept him off the field for months.
The Welshman was in fine form for his nation before the injury, however, netting four goals in Wales’ opening four games.
Ireland though appear confident that they will have the capability to contain the tricky winger. Ireland captain, Séamus Coleman, mentioning how their team have kept big name players quiet in the past (referencing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who came toe-to-toe with Ireland last summer at Euro 2016) and insisting that they must not focus too much on Bale, with ten other players to consider.
Other players to keep an eye on are Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey and Everton’s Ashley Williams.
Name Gareth Bale.
From Cardiff, Wales.
Club Real Madrid.
Serbia (2) Ireland (2)
Ireland (1) Georgia (0)
Moldova (1) Ireland (3)
Austria (0) Ireland (1)
Wales (4) Moldova (0)
Austria (2) Wales (2)
Wales (1) Georgia (1)
Wales (1) Serbia (1)
Ireland – 41212
Wales – 41212
Going into such a pivotal match it is quite difficult to predict the outcome. Looking at both set of players, Gareth Bale should give Wales an edge, but, the spirit and determination within the Irish team is undeniable. With such evenly matched teams and Wales record of three consecutive draws, my head is telling me 1-1 (5-1 odds). My heart is telling me Ireland 2-0 (9/1 odds) and James McClean first goalscorer (7/1 odds.)