The Republic of Ireland will secure at least a playoff spot for next year’s European Championships if they can secure a win in their penultimate qualifier in Dublin on Thursday. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the match in question is against world champions Germany.
And it will be a Germany team very much still with something to play for, with a point needed to confirm their place in France next summer. In one of the tightest qualifying groups, Germany currently sit two points clear of Poland at the top, with Ireland a further two points behind. The top two will make it automatically to Euro 2016, with the third going into a playoff, unless they finish as the best third-placed side and also gain automatic entry. But Scotland remain firmly in the running, four points behind Ireland, but with a virtual guarantee of three points to come at minnows Gibraltar in the final round of games on Sunday.
With Ireland visiting Poland in their final match, everything remains up for grabs. And given the expansion to 24 teams for Euro 2016, the pain of missing out on a major tournament will be even greater than normal.
The task for Ireland at the Aviva Stadium is certainly an unenviable one. After a slow start following their World Cup victory in Brazil, Germany have won five straight qualifiers to move to within touching distance of a place in France. And they will be able to field a team featuring the likes of in-from stars Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil and Mario Götze .
The last time they met Ireland in Dublin, Germany handed out a 6-1 drubbing during qualifying for the last World Cup. But coach Joachim Löw is taking nothing for granted, especially after being held to a 1-1 draw when the sides clashed in Gelsenkirchen last year.
“Ireland are famous for defending very well, very strong defense, and if you look at the past encounters between our two nations, you don't always get a 6-1 result,” he said, according to the Irish Independent. “On the contrary, in many more cases it was more matches of attrition than anything else.
“They are physically stronger than Scotland, also in some of their attacking play, they play more imaginatively than the Scots, so we have to be looking out for that. Ireland know how to make life hard for the opposition. They are very robust, very physical, but they can also score on the counter.”
The draw in Germany is so far the highlight of what has been a difficult qualifying campaign for Martin O’Neill’s Ireland side. Looking to reach their second straight European Championship, Ireland took just one point from two matches with Scotland to leave their hopes hanging by a thread. But back-to-back victories over Gibraltar and Georgia last month, coupled with a slip up by Scotland, has given them a real chance.
Ye,t O’Neill has plenty of selection difficulties for the visit of Germany. Already with Glenn Whelan and James McClean suspended, Everton defender Seamus Coleman has lost his fitness battle, while Norwich City creator Wes Hoolahan is also a doubt. However, the captain, and the country’s all-time leading scorer, Robbie Keane, has declared himself available, despite his wife having a baby just hours before the LA Galaxy forward made the trip to Dublin.
“As you can imagine, it’s obviously been fairly hectic,” he said at a press conference on Wednesday. “We played in Seattle on Sunday and then left early Monday morning, my wife had a baby at 7 p.m. on Monday evening, and I left the hospital at 9 p.m.
“I was two hours in the hospital so you can imagine how that went down. But she understands. It has been a hectic few days but it has also been very joyful to have a new baby into our family. Now I’m here with the Irish team and I’m fully focused on being here.”
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: ESPN
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