Wales versus the Republic of Ireland has been dubbed as winner-takes-all, but it could still turn out to be winner-gets-nothing, as only a play-off place is up for grabs for both nations as they prepare for their final group D World Cup qualifier.
Serbia are still in pole position to win the section, and therefore snatch the automatic qualifying spot for the finals in Russia next year, with success at home to Georgia enough to confirm their place at the summit of the standings.
One thing that those who like to hype up these games have got right is the fact that Wales and Ireland must go for broke.
A draw is extremely unlikely to be good enough for either.
It could come down to the Fair Play table – which doesn’t look healthy for Wales – but that would take an extraordinary set of results.
Basically, the round robin points total for both teams – not including matches against bottom-placed Moldova – is tied at 11. An extra point would see them almost certainly finish as the lowest ranked runner-up in the European qualification tables, meaning they would miss out on the play-offs.
— FAIreland (@FAIreland) October 8, 2017
A win for either would be enough, and for Wales they would potentially be seeded for the two-legged clashes next month. However, as it stands Ireland wouldn’t be and therefore could face the likes of Italy or Portugal.
Irish to Benefit from Bale Out?
The narratives for this crunch clash are many, with perhaps the biggest talking point the absence of Gareth Bale for Wales.
Prior to Chris Coleman’s team’s narrow 1-0 win in Georgia on Friday, Wales hadn’t won a competitive match with the Real Madrid striker missing for four years.
They might have snapped that statistic last time out, but their overall record since Bale made his debut for the national team in 2006 when he hasn’t made the team sheet reads: played 33, won eight, drawn nine and lost 16.
Assistant Ireland coach Roy Keane has suggested Bale’s absence is negated by his own nation’s missing stars, stating:
“He [Bale] is obviously an important player for them but we are missing Seamus Coleman and Jon Walters”.
But that would be a little disingenuous given Bale scored 75 per cent of Wales’ qualifying goals en-route to Euro 16.
Scores to Settle in the Principality
Speaking of the Everton full-back, there is some bad blood between the two teams after what happened in the reverse fixture in Dublin, where Coleman broke his leg in two places after a horrific challenge from Neil Taylor, who was sent off.
There were other poor tackles from Welsh personnel in the Irish capital, with one in particular from Bale on Irish keeper Darren Randolph that many felt deserved a red card.
It’s led to calls for a strong referee in Cardiff and the man in the middle is Slovenia official Damir Skomina, who isn’t known to be card happy. Although he did issue six cautions in Barcelona’s recent Champions League win over Juventus.
— Wales (@FAWales) October 9, 2017
Punters, though, will be keen to explore the markets that feature red and yellow cards.
There were five cards shown in the qualifier between the two teams in March (four yellow and one red) and, given what’s at stake, the 4/6 about the same number or more looks a fair bet.
Will there be another player sent off? I suspect that there will be plenty of takers of the 5/2 on offer.
Welsh Dragons to Fire
Wales struggles in qualifying has led to some suggesting their run to the semi-finals of the European Championships last year was something of a fluke.
I’d say that’s unfair, and it is worth remembering they are unbeaten since that last four exit to Portugal.
As we’ve mentioned the draw is no good to either side, but can be backed at 11/5, while Martin O’Neill’s team are 23/10 to pull off a shock win – something they haven’t achieved in their previous three visits – Ireland last victory in Wales came in 1991.
Even without Bale, the home nation have craft and graft in the shape of Aaron Ramsey, not the worst punt at 6/1 to score the opener, and Ashley Williams, and with a full house roaring them on, it’s Wales who should come good.