MARK O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) takes a look at the betting ahead of Ireland’s crucial Euro 2016 qualifying play-off first leg with Bosnia on Friday night.
Bosnia v Republic of Ireland | Friday 19.45 | Sky Sports 1
Oh, why did it have to be Bosnia? I guess it was destined to be after being handed the kindest of draw against Estonia at the equivalent stage four years ago but even so, my toys went out the pram.
So two games against the Balkan boys will decide who’ll be booking their place in next summer’s European Championships in France and understandably, it’s Bosnia who have been favoured by the bookies.
Friday’s hosts are best price 68/67 with Marathon to pocket the first leg victory and having gotten off to an awful start, the Dragons soon roared into action to clinch third-spot with a W5-D2-L3 record. All five victories arriving in their final six fixtures following Mehmed Bazdarevic’s appointment.
Bosnia’s attack is rightly lauded. In Roma duo Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic, they possess two of Europe’s hottest forward-minded players. Dzeko notched seven goals during qualifying and has netted in each of his last three on home soil whilst Pjanic is the fulcrum of Bazdarevic’s side. Should Ireland nullify his influence, they’ll stand a chance.
Because, the Dragons just aren’t as fearsome in defensive areas. Their lack of stability at the back is displayed in their goals against tally – the hosts leaked 12 in qualifying, making them the leakiest defence competing in the play-offs. They may have beaten Wales 2-0 in Zenica in October but Chris Coleman’s travellers carved out plenty of opportunities – the gritty Irish will be hopeful of following suit.
Bosnia have W6-D1-L1 at their compact ground but they’re coming up against a Republic side with one loss in eight. That came in their final encounter with Poland but having taken four points off world champions Germany, head coach Martin O’Neill remains confident in the Boys In Green’s prospects.
However, Ireland arrive with major injury and suspension problems that are threatening to derail O’Neill’s best-laid plans. Jonathan Walters and John O’Shea are ruled out by suspension and Shane Long won’t be fit. With Walters and Long unavailable, the visitors frontline would be significantly weakened.
The Republic have failed to score in six of their last 11 matches away (W2-D5-L4) and so a leading role will hopefully be given to Wes Hoolahan. In a functional side, the Norwich man is capable of unlocking the meanest defences and could be key with in-form Everton duo Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy.
O’Neill’s target is an away goal and I’d like to believe it’s a runner, so 5/4 (William Hill) quotes on both teams scoring look strong, especially when you consider the hosts have scored two or more in six of their last eight internationals at home, while seven of their 10 qualifiers saw Over 2.5 goals.
But Ireland’s dogged determination has seen them through plenty of tough battles previously and it’s worth noting Ireland have conceded two or more goals in competitive away games just twice since 2007. I expect it to be tight, gritty and quite ugly at times but Bosnia can sneak a narrow victory. Bosnia to win by one goal is 5/2 with Boylesports.
Bosnia v Republic of Ireland – Bosnia to win by one goal (5/2 Boylesports)
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