INTERNATIONAL football obsessive Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his thoughts on Tuesday's crunch World Cup qualifier between Ireland and Serbia.
Republic of Ireland v Serbia | Tuesday 5th September 2017, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Republic of Ireland boss Martin O'Neill says his side will have to produce a “phenomenal effort” to beat Serbia on Tuesday in a potentially decisive World Cup qualifier from Dublin.
A desperately poor performance in Georgia (1-1) on Saturday saw the Boys In Green fall two points behind table-topping Serbia. And Wales’ triumph against Austria has pushed the Dragons to within touching distance of the Irish in a highly competitive Group D.
O’Neill admitted Ireland’s display in drawing in George on Friday was their worst in the qualifying competition so far. The Republic's inability to hold on to the ball in Tbilisi was stark with the Eastern Europeans bossing 69% of the ball and out-passing the Irish by four to one.
The gap between the sides was a little pronounced in terms of chances created and either James McClean or Aiden McGeady might have grabbed a winner late on for the Boys In Green but few expected such a below-par effort.
Shane Long had a frustrating evening in his lone frontman role, Robbie Brady's struggled in the floating midfield role, Stephen Ward had an uncomfortable evening at left-back and neither Glenn Whelan nor Harry Arter were able to take control of the midfield. Calls for Whelan to drop out have increased but Jeff Hendrick’s absence reduces O’Neill’s options.
There’s been clamour for Wes Hoolahan to be brought in from the off but I’d expect the ROI head coach to field a conservative XI, knowing the damage a defeat could do to Ireland’s campaign.
After three failed campaigns, compounded by a litany of squabbles inside the camp, a sense of stability surrounds this Serbian side to the extent manager Slavoljub Muslin revealed he’s got all but one of his starting team selected for Tuesday.
The Serbs have a full-strength squad available and are talking in unison about avoiding the dreaded play-off route by accounting for an Ireland side inferior from a technical aspect and bruised mentally by the display, not just the result, in Tbilisi.
The visitors have W4-D3-L0 of their seven qualifiers and had the luxury of withdrawing Nemanja Matic and Dusan Tadic early from their 3-0 cakewalk against minnows Moldova last time out; Mijat Gacinovic scored his second goal in as many internationals in that encounter with Aleksandar Kolarov and Aleksandar Mitrovic also on target.
Mitrovic has now scored 10 international goals for Serbia and five of them have arrived in this qualifying campaign. He’s also notched eight in his last 10 appearances for the national side. Newcastle forward Mitrovic and Serbian skipper Branislav Ivanovic have both labelled this as the most important match in country’s short history.
The betting angles
Serbia (9/5 Betfair) have been given slight favouritism for Tuesday’s tussle, which isn’t too surprising. The visitors dominated the reverse contest, have a star-studded squad to select from and recorded W2-D1-L0 in trips to Georgia, Moldova and Wales thus far.
But Ireland (2/1 Bet365) haven’t lost a qualifying fixture at home under Martin O’Neill (W4-D4-L0) – a run that stretches back to 2013 – and includes a victory over world champions Germany. Following Saturday’s wretched display, you can be sure the Irish will be on it this time around.
Neither team make particular appeal at the prices so it may pay to back the outsider in the Match Odds market, the draw at 28/13 (Marathon). Despite Serbia’s talk of clinching top spot, both nations will desperate to avoid defeat. The pair are unbeaten in 14 collective Group D games and of the nine matches contested by the top four nations in the pool, six have ended up all-square.
But rather than back the stalemate, I’m instead going to support Both Teams To Score at 11/10 (Unibet), as well as the 1-1 correct score at 11/2 (William Hill). The two teams have both scored in all seven of their qualifiers whilst it’s worth noting all eight of Ireland’s competitive home games under O’Neill featured fewer than three goals.
The visitors have plundered 16 goals thus far but their defensive record of shipping seven goals in as many games – only shutting out rock-bottom Moldova – suggests they’re far from watertight, giving Ireland vital opportunities in the final-third.
Republic of Ireland v Serbia – Both Teams To Score (11/10 Unibet)
Republic of Ireland v Serbia – 1-1 correct score (11/2 William Hill)