The inaugural UEFA Nations League begins this week with 55 European nations competing across four separate leagues – and Group Four’s fixture in League B throws up a Celtic cracker with Wales set to host Republic of Ireland at the Cardiff City Stadium on Thursday night.
The match sees the two sides meet for the first time since the Republic ended Wales’ hopes of heading to their first World Cup finals in 56 years, before the men in green were eventually beaten by Denmark in the final qualification play-off to also miss out on France 2018.
Wales out for Republic revenge
Welsh hearts were broken after a James McLean strike in October’s play-off fixture saw them crash out of the World Cup qualification play-offs and end their dreams of a trip to France for the 2018 World Cup.
Since then, Ryan Giggs has taken over from Chris Coleman, and the legendary Wales international will be looking to pick up only his second win in four outings when Martin O’Neill’s side visit the Cardiff City Stadium.
Despite thrashing China 6-0 in the China Cup, a 1-0 loss to Uruguay followed in the tournament and a 0-0 friendly draw with Mexico suggests that Giggs’ side are struggling for firepower, even with Real Madrid star Gareth Bale in their ranks.
However, the former Spurs and Southampton man is arguably the only world class player in both squads for this match, and Giggs will hope he can be the difference tomorrow night. Bale is 7/2 to score the first or the last goal of the game.
The Red Dragons haven’t beaten the Irish in their last eight fixtures, with their last win coming in a 1992 friendly, but they go into this one as favourites at 5/6.
O’Neill’s army out
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill will be without a number of his key players going into this one – James McClean, Robbie Brady and Shane Long all drop out to injury, while Harry Arter’s decision to focus on club football with Cardiff for now means he’s not considered for selection.
This fixture tends to produce cagey affairs – there has been only goal in the last three outings between the sides. However, Republic of Ireland can take heart that they have won four of their last eight encounters against Wales, and they will hope for something similar in Cardiff.
While Republic of Ireland’s last match saw them score an injury-time winner against USA, defeats to France, Turkey and Denmark before then shows that they are a team that are vulnerable against top opposition.
Martin O’Neill will look to experienced players Jonathan Walters, Seamus Coleman and Shane Duffy to keep the Irish compact and difficult to beat as they go into this one as underdogs at 10/3.
Tight tussle on the cards
If previous games are anything to go by, we could be in for a tight battle on Thursday night. Republic of Ireland’s priority will be to nullify the threat from Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, while Wales will also be conscious of the aerial threat the green and white pose from set pieces.
This could be Wales’ best chance to reap revenge on Republic of Ireland following the World Cup play-off defeat, with the Republic’s squad depleted. Bale to score first and Wales to win 1-0 looks good value at 15/1.