Ireland’s 2-0 victory against Moldova was largely expected but there was a sense of relief all the same.
Here we pick out the main talking points from Friday’s clash at the Aviva Stadium.
5. Ireland Back To Winning Ways
No matter the performance, Ireland needed to win against Moldova to set up a showdown against Wales. It was hardly a pretty performance but a routine one, something that can be difficult for a side in poor form. Daryl Murphy continued on from his domestic form and justified his start with two well-taken goals.
Ireland enjoyed a fruitful first half and should that have continued they could have scored a few more against a poor Moldova side that were made look good in the second half. Although the visitors rarely threatened, Ireland’s clean sheet will also bode well for confidence coming into the final game against Wales. It was job done well and a good closing home night in World Cup qualifying.
4. Ireland Show They’re More Than Capable Of Knocking It Around
In the first half, Ireland showed that they can string passes together and play decent football. It was not Ireland’s best team on paper but it was an example of how fluid a system Martin O’Neill’s diamond midfield can be.
David Meyler acted as a safe anchor with Jeff Hendrick and Callum O’Dowda allowed to roam forward and get things moving. Wes Hoolahan addded the creativity with the back four rarely troubled. The diamond in midfield looked fantastic in the first half only to drift in the second. However it is a decent framework which has heralded wins against Germany, Bosnia and Italy and which could be retained for Monday’s tie with Wales.
3. Victory Should Not Mask Recurring Flaws
It is not fair to be overly critical on a victorious night but this Irish side cannot be immune to criticism given some unavoidable issues against the Moldovans. The Boys in Green looked a lot more fluid at times with Murphy’s second goal a fantastic team effort. However, like many games in this campaign, Ireland sat back at times and afforded a very poor Moldova side too much time on the ball.
The midfield sat deep against a side that was spooked anytime the pressure was applied yet the intensity was inconsistent. The Irish, and in particular Shane Long, were not ruthless enough in front of goal in a game that could easily have finished 4-0 or 5-0. Ireland sat off midway through the second half, making Moldova look like a good footballing side. This lack of killer instinct will be punished against Wales should this approach continue.
2. Shane Long’s Selection Against Wales Has To Be Seriously Looked At
Most strikers have off days but Shane Long has been in poor form for a number of months. He had three guilt-edged misses against the Moldovans which were unfortunate to watch but simply unacceptable for a forward playing in the Premier League. Long’s all round game was poor, with his movement and touches not sharp enough.
On one occasion when a burst of pace would have seen him through on goal, the Southampton player put on the breaks and gave away the ball extremely cheaply. Ireland need to finish their chances in Cardiff and Long’s misses do not bode for Monday. He is a fantastic servant to his country but is certainly missing the confidence required against the Welsh. Sean Maguire will be full of confidence after making his debut and is a fearless option should he be called upon against Wales.
1. All To Play For In Cardiff
Friday’s victory sets up a cup final against Wales on Monday. The Welsh are the only unbeaten side in the group after Serbia’s loss to Austria and the game could potentially decide the automatic qualification on the off chance Serbia slip up. Wales have looked far from the side that made it to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 and will be without star man Gareth Bale.
The Boys in Green have shown in the past that when they are desperate for a win that they can achieve it against all the odds. Victories against Germany and Italy would justify that theory and O’Neill has no choice but to set Ireland up for a win. Those two nations are arguably better than the available Welsh squad for Monday and Irish fans and players should believe that qualification is very much possible.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena