IRISHMAN Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) previews Saturday evening's crunch World Cup qualifying clash from Vienna as Austria entertain Republic of Ireland.
Austria v Republic Of Ireland | Saturday 17:00 | Sky Sports 1
Having missed out on each of the past three World Cups, I can’t pretend I wasn’t crestfallen when viewing Ireland’s qualification draw for 2018 tournament.
At the time, Austria were flying, Wales were already making headlines and Serbia were celebrating lifting the U20 World Cup. We were also lumbered with Georgia – easily the best of the nations from the pot six seeds. Gah.
But three matchdays into Group D’s devilishly difficult pool, I’m pleased with Ireland’s seven-point haul. The Boys In Green picked up a very valuable 2-2 in Serbia before overcoming a couple of hiccups to beat both Georgia and Moldova.
During the same cycle, Wales dropped points at home to Georgia and Austria were beaten in Serbia. It means the talented Serbs sit joint-top of the tree with Ireland ahead of matchday four when Wales and Serbia lock horns in Cardiff whilst the Republic travel to Austria.
Both nations will recognise the importance of getting a positive result in Vienna but neither side arrives in top-notch nick. For example, the visitors are without injured first-choice striker Shane Long and midfield mystros James McCarthy.
Ireland's outstanding goalscoring record
Still, Martin O’Neill’s men have claimed four wins from their past six (W4-D1-L1) with the only loss in that sample coming during Euro 2016 against hosts France. And the visitors have managed to get on the scoresheet in 18 of their last 19 internationals – only failing to do so when beaten by Belgium at the Euros.
On their travels, Ireland have churned out only three triumphs in 17 (W3-D9-L5) but their low loss-rate, combined with their ability to grab a goal, makes for a tasty recipe. The Republic have only fired one blank in their last nine away days and managed to strike in Germany and Poland en-route to Euro 2016.
However, it would be unfair to paint a picture of perfection in the visitors’ dressing room. The Boys In Green have tended to grind rather than excel since that memorable European Championships campaign and although the side are well-drilled defensively, I can’t see Austria failing to find the net in the Ernst Happel Stadium.
Austria top-heavy and defensively suspect
Flops at Euro 2016 when heavily fancied and backed by I, Austria haven’t quite recovered but they’re still a real menace in the attacking third. Das Team have notched at least twice in all three qualifiers thus far with David Alaba running the show from midfield.
Marcelo Koller’s men are unbeaten in 10 home competitive matches (W8-D2-L0) although their last Vienna success against any noteworthy opposition came against Russia almost exactly two years ago.
A porous Austrian backline has failed to be fixed; include friendly internationals and Das Team have recorded a solitary clean sheet in 11 whilst captain Christian Fuchs retired in the summer, goalkeeper Robert Alma is injured, Kevin Wimmer’s started only one Premier League game this season and centre-half Aleksandar Dragovic has rarely featured for Leverkusen.
Both Teams To Score the banker bet
With neither side particularly impressing at the back, it makes perfect sense to head to the goals markets and I have to admit I was delighted to see 888 offering Both Teams To Score at a delightful 19/17. That’s most definitely my banker bet here.
A whopping 13 of Austria’s past 14 fixtures have featured at least two goals with 11 producing profitable Over 2.5 Goals selections too with 10 banking in the BTTS column. The hosts haven’t failed to net in competitive action in Vienna for five years and with Ireland’s excellent return in front of goal, it looks a real runner.
Austria haven’t lost to Ireland since 1963 and although I reckon it’s unlikely the Republic will end that record on Saturday, I would back the Boys In Green to avoid defeat. And whilst I was tempted by the 1-1 correct score (6/1 BetVictor) and +0.50 Asian Handicap angle (37/40 Bet365), I’ll leave it and put all my eggs in the BTTS basket instead.
Austria v Republic of Ireland – Both Teams To Score (19/17 888)