Euro 2016 play-offs: Walters brace sees Irish qualify over Bosnia
Lee Gormley | November 16, 2015
Republic of Ireland 2-0 Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Jonathan Walters dispatches first-half penalty past Asmir Begovic
- The Stoke City striker doubled Ireland’s tally in second with clinical finish
- Martin O’Neill’s Boys in Green qualify for France finals with 3-1 aggregate win
Ireland reach France finals
Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland impressively secured their place in next summer’s Euro 2016 with a 2-0 second leg victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina, as Jonathan Walters returned to dispatch a decisive double earning a 3-1 aggregate triumph.
The Stoke City forward missed Ireland’s first leg draw through suspension, but came back to haunt Bosnia with a brilliant brace, tucking in a first-half penalty after a Senad Lulic handball, then connecting with a classy Robbie Brady free-kick.
In front of their ecstatic fans at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, following months of defiant performances in qualifying Group D, the Irish were rewarded for their solid showings to cement their place in the France finals.
Ipswich Town frontman Daryl Murphy retained his place in O’Neill’s starting line-up on home soil, and he was once again the target of early lofted balls forward, using his strength to win a free-kick, which Robbie Brady failed to cause danger from.
Early Dzeko threat neutralised
In front of their rapturous home support, Ireland started a lot stronger than they did in Zenica, confidently keeping possession in the middle with James McCarthy and Jeff Hendrick, while Seamus Coleman looked a constant threat wide right.
Bosnia couldn’t get a grip on proceedings at all, and Norwich City craftsman Wes Hoolahan was almost gifted a one-on-one chance from a poor back-pass towards Asmir Begovic on seven minutes.
What followed was a swift break from the Irish, as relentless work from Everton midfielder McCarthy and a searching eventual cross-field pass led to Walters nearly netting the opener from close range.
Towering Bosnia target man Edin Dzeko gave his nation a lifeline with his strike in the first leg, but he was enduring a tough battle with against Derby County defender Richard Keogh, who was solidly keeping any threat at bay.
Irish hold strong
Dzeko’s club and international teammate Miralem Pjanic was seen as the biggest danger to Ireland, but the Serie A playmaker was struggling to get into the game, with Glenn Whelan again keeping close tabs on his every movement.
Instead of continuing to launch forward balls to Murphy at every opportunity, Ireland’s main threat was coming from wide, with first leg goal scorer Brady providing plenty of deadly deliveries from the left flank.
The Boys in Green had to withstand a developing spell from the visitors half way through the first period, as Lulic tried to pick out Dzeko, but Aston Villa’s Ciaran Clark was able to deal with the danger effectively.
Bosnia became increasingly frustrated with the slick passing from the Irish, leading to a series of free-kicks from encouraging positions, with Emir Spahic being booked for a forceful challenge on Hendrick.
Walters on the spot
Such swift build-up play soon paid off for the Irish, as Murphy attempted to cross towards Walters in the penalty area but his effort was blocked by an outstretched arm of Lulic.
Stoke City’s Walters stepped up for the crucial spot-kick after 24 minutes, clinically dispatching his penalty into the bottom left corner and sending Chelsea stopper Begovic the wrong way.
Tension was high immediately after Ireland’s opener, with proceedings threatening to boil over, after Hoolahan was taken out by Emir Spahic. Both sets of players came together in a minor tussle, but things soon mellowed.
The goal somehow seemed to calm Bosnia down, as they began spreading the ball like they had done on home territory, though a mistake from Begovic at the other end had him scrambling to prevent Hoolahan capitalising on his poor clearance.
Ireland were happy to let the visitors hold on to possession for large spells towards half-time but, despite a strong wall of green shirts holding strong, Edin Visca and Haris Medunjanin looked increasingly threatening.
Although, Darren Randolph was still barely troubled between the Aviva sticks, as O’Neill’s men safely reached the break with a narrow lead.
Coleman came face-to-face with a familiar face in the second-half, as fellow Toffees star Muhamed Besic was introduced in place of Edin Cocalic.
Ireland were instantly under pressure from a right-sided free-kick, after Hendrick conceded a foul on the edge of his side’s penalty area, but goal scorer Walters leapt highest to vitally clear Medunjanin’s whipped delivery.
Long returns from injury
O’Neill looked to inject further pace and attacking threat just before the hour mark, thrusting both Shane Long and James McClean into the action to replace hard-working duo Murphy and Hoolahan.
West Brom wideman McClean was quickly at fault as he fouled Ognjen Vranjes on the right flank and was booked for his troubles, but luckily for him, the Irish defence defiantly held strong to see out any threat.
Though the Derry-born winger’s influence grew as he started to use his pace effectively down the left side of midfield, leading to another free-kick, which would prove decisive.
Irish hold on to secure Euro spot
Having been the victim of the crunching Spahic challenge, Walters quickly recovered and was lurking in the box to dispatch his second goal from a deadly Brady set-piece, sending Dublin’s crowd into joyful hysterics.
Returning striker Long almost emulated his heroics against Germany, breaking free against Begovic, but the Southampton striker was forced to miss by the incoming presence of Kolasinac.
It wasn’t to matter though, as Ireland withstood an intense goal-mouth scramble to seal their Euro 2016 fate, incredibly reaching the France finals with a 3-1 aggregate triumph over both legs.
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