MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) analyses the odds ahead of Ireland’s latest World Cup qualifying contest against Moldova on Sunday night.
Moldova v Republic of Ireland | Sunday 19.45 | Sky Sports
Ireland haven’t qualified for the World Cup since their heroic performances in Korea and Japan back in 2002 but the Boys In Green remain on a firm footing to Russia 2018 having collected four points from games against Georgia and Serbia.
Martin O’Neill’s men rode their luck at times in Belgrade but ground out a precious point ahead of a must-win encounter against Georgia on Thursday night. The Republic were desperate to beat the Georgians, knowing tougher tests await against Austria and Wales.
But the Boys In Green produced a dreadful show and were fortunate to escape with a 1-0 success at the AVIVA. The Eastern Europeans hit the woodwork twice and looked assured on the ball for large swathes of a drab encounter.
Ireland were distinctly average, second-best in physical challenges and looked devoid of inspiration or any obvious game-plan. Thankfully, Seamus Coleman broke his international duck with a sole run and scrappy strike that just about spared the Republic’s blushes.
Before the contest, Irish followers wouldn’t have cared about the manner of success; getting three points was all that mattered about Thursday’s fixture but the performance, and injuries/suspensions picked up have given O’Neill a major selection headache for Sunday’s trip to Chisinau.
Midfield marauder Jeff Hendrick is certainly out through suspension and lead creative force Robbie Brady looks highly doubtful to make the trip having been knocked unconscious during the Dublin date. Elsewhere, Shane Long limped off with an Achilles problem and also appears unlikely to feature.
Should all three miss the match in Moldova, Ireland will be without the scorers of five (45%) of their 11 goals in 10 competitive games since October 2015 with out-of-favour Stoke striker Jon Walters being counted upon to lead the line.
Both Wales (4-0) and Serbia (3-0) have schooled the Eastern Europeans already in this campaign but without a leading light such as Gareth Bale or Dusan Tadic, the Republic might struggle to put Igor Dobrovolski’s side to the sword.
Superior head-to-head records count during qualification for the European Championships but goal difference is the separator on the road to Russia and the Boys In Green will be desperate to rack up a comfortable victory but there’s little evidence to suggest O’Neill’s charges are capable of such.
In the past 15 years, Ireland have only won by three or more goals on just three occasions in away qualifiers, scraping past the likes of Cyprus (twice), Georgia (x3), Kazakhstan and San Marino by just a solitary strike and Macedonia, Andorra, Estonia and Faroe Islands by exactly two goals.
Moldova have made a pigs ear of their opening two matches but during qualification for Euro 2016, the hosts spilled two goals or less in all 10 outings and gave up just three goals across two encounters with Austria.
Across all competitions, the hosts have W1-D6-L16 since May 2014 – beating Andorra and holding Malta, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Kazakhstan, Canada and Russia. Moldova failed to score in 13 of those fixtures, including four of their six this year.
There’s no doubt the Blues are the poorest nation in the pool but this century, Moldova have W8-D10-L23 – a 56% loss rate – in competitive matches in Chisinau. Only four (10%) of those losses were by a margin of three goals or more with 12 (29%) defeats by exactly one goal and six (15%) arriving by the two-goal margin.
The Asian Handicap line has again been set at one-goal so I’m going to head back to the Winning Margin market and back the Boys In Green to pick-up maximum points by exactly one goal at 12/5 (Bet365).
I’m also interested in the Correct Score route with 1-0 (5/1 Paddy Power) and 2-0 (6/1 Paddy Power) Irish victories the understandable favourites but Moldova have scored at home to Poland, Austria, Russia and Sweden in the past five years during meaningful matches, ruling out the latter.
A 2-1 triumph is available at 8/1 (BetVictor) in what’s expected to be another nerve-shredding contest as the ragged Republic attempt to drag a vital victory back to Dublin.
Moldova v Republic of Ireland – Republic of Ireland to win by exactly one goal (12/5 Bet365)
Moldova v Republic of Ireland – Republic of Ireland to win 1-0 (5/1 Paddy Power)
Moldova v Republic of Ireland – Republic of Ireland to win 2-1 (8/1 BetVictor)