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Do or die for Ireland

Wednesday, 4th October, 2017 5:47pm

It's crunch time for the boys in green as Ireland welcome Moldova to the Aviva Stadium on Friday night in the first of two crucial World Cup qualifying matches this week.

Ireland, who started the year in a very promising position in Group D, require two wins in their games against Moldova and Wales, and even that does not guarantee the Republic a playoff spot.

If Ireland were to beat Moldova on Friday and Wales on Monday night in Cardiff, they would need to be one of eight teams who placed in second of their group in the European qualifiers with the ninth-ranked team eliminated, that is, the team with the lowest points tally.

Speaking on the permutations, manager Martin O'Neill said: “We have to rise to this occasion, this is it. We have two games; we know if we win those two games, we'd be desperately unlucky not to be in the playoffs, and that's it. If you had said to me at the start of the competition that we'd have to win our last game at home and we've to win in Wales to take it to the playoffs, I would have taken it then.”

Ireland received a boost ahead of the ties this week after it was confirmed that Welsh talisman Gareth Bale, who has scored four goals for the national side in their qualifying campaign so far, has been ruled out of his sides final two fixtures against Georgia and Ireland with a calf strain. The 28 year old Real Madrid player could be out for a month which may also rule him out of the playoffs, set to take place from 9-14 November, should Wales advance.

Assistant Manager Roy Keane was frank in his assessment of the loss of Bale to Wales, saying: “We're missing Seamus Coleman and Jon Walters, they're as important to us as Bale is to Wales so that's life.”

Coleman and Walters aside, Ireland's injury worries are limited, although goalkeeper Kieran Westwood has also been ruled out with a rib injury. Harry Arter, David McGoldrick and James McCarthy all took part in training this week while Shane Long, who had been suffering from a dead leg earlier this week, is expected to be fully fit for Friday's clash.

Moldova lie in bottom place in Group D, with just two draws from eight matches. However, Shane Duffy is wary of complacency, especially given that Moldova drew 1-1 with Ireland in their last game by half-time, only for Ireland to pull away 3-1 winners on the night.“We've seen upsets in football where you sort of don't think you can just turn up – you can't do that in this game, you'll get punished. Moldova know their strengths, they know they have to sit behind us and have a good shape they'll try and hit us on the counter. In the last game they got us from one mistake from myself, it's one of those things that you can't let it happen. We've just got to dominate what we can do at home and put early pressure on them and hopefully we'll come through.”

With a large crowd expected at the Aviva Stadium on Friday for Ireland's final home qualifier game of the tournament, Duffy says he and the team are aware of the fans' expectations for the national side to produce a result.

“Going out there and doing it, not just for the team, but the pressure of everyone in the coutry wanting you to do well, it's a great feeling if you come out with a good result and performance. It's a different thing when a country backs you. There isn't fans like it anywhere else in the world, we love it – we know how big this game is on Friday night, if we can get everyone there and how we had it against Germany and Bosnia, the atmosphere like those (games) it drives you through. There's been great nights at the Aviva so far and we just want another good one.”

Meanwhile the Moldova clash will mark former Cork City striker Seanie Maguire's first time being included in the final squad. Now with Preston North End after a summer move away from Leeside, Martin O'Neill has placed faith in the 23 year old, who failed to make the final squad previously, despite training with the national squad. Two other uncapped players, Millwall's Aiden O'Brien and Aston Villa's Scott Hogan, have retained their places on the squad.

O'Neill has faced criticism previously for not including Maguire in his final squad but his policy on youth and inclusion is simple, he says.

“There are two elements to this. You want to try and qualify for a competition, that's my job. For instance, if I'd taken up the mantle here almost four years ago and John Delaney had said to me 'Actually, Martin, what we want in four years time, we want a young side that's vibrant and ready to go, so don't worry about qualification'. I think we could have done that quite easily.

“Some of the old guard, who've been really fine players for the national side, we could have easily said time's up, we're going with this youth policy.”

He added: “But actually, no, we'd still want to qualify for competitions and as some of the older guard would have said to me 'That's fine, I still want to play, if someone comes along that's younger and is better than me, I'll push to the side' but what has happened is that some of the older players have stuck with it and have been excellent for us.

“At this minute what we're looking for is younger players of that quality to come through and be good enough to compete at this level, and that's the most important thing. It's international football, whatever you talk about, this is a step-up for a lot of the players,” he said.

The Republic of Ireland kick-off against Moldova at the Aviva Stadium on Friday at 7.45 while kick-off against Wales at the Cardiff City Stadium on 9 October is also at 7.45pm.

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