Tonight is as big a game as any that has taken place at the Aviva Stadium since the stadium opened in 2010, as Ireland and Bosnia and Herzegovina face off for the one spot at Euro 2016. Martin O’Neill’s side earned a hard-fought 1-1 draw in Zenica on Friday, but the manager has promised that they will not sit back against Edin Dzeko and Co. tonight.
While the team will not be announced until an hour before kick-off, we can speculate all day who will get the nod. Here’s the XI we would pick.
Goalkeeper: Darren Randolph
Kieren Westwood, Shay Given, and Rob Elliot are all unavailable for selection. Randolph has been solid for the Irish since coming on as a substitute against Germany, and his form when he has featured for West Ham indicates that he ought to start tonight.
Right-back: Séamus Coleman
This is a non decision. Cyrus Christie is a quality player, but Coleman offers a different level.
Centre-Halves: Richard Keogh and Ciaran Clark
If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Keogh was immense on Friday night, while Clark put in a solid shift. Considering John O’Shea’s lack of game-time, the Sunderland captain would be a risk.
Left-back: Marc Wilson
O’Neill must be running out of ideas for left-back. Neither Robbie Brady nor Stephen Ward have the positional nous for the role. Despite predominantly being a centre-back, Wilson could adapt and appears to be our best bet for the position.
Right Wing: Jeff Hendrick
He was solid in this position throughout the evening in Zenica, and has grown into an important player for Ireland this season. He showed against Georgia how valuable he can be, and is dangerous going forward.
Centre-Midfield: Glenn Whelan and James McCarthy
Whelan provides experience and leadership in the middle of the park, and while he often comes in for criticism for his showings in a green shirt, there is a reason that he is always one of the first names on the team sheets for Stoke and Ireland. This is the type of game that McCarthy can thrive, and if Ireland are on the front foot in the Aviva, the Everton midfielder can pull the strings.
Left Wing: James McClean
It would be a massive call from Martin O’Neill to drop Robbie Brady, who scored the goal on Friday night. However, Bosnia marauded down their right wing time and time again, and Brady left Ward exposed. The Hull winger did not offer enough defensively to merit inclusion, and it would represent a major risk to leave him on the left wing again. Ireland are far more likely to keep a clean sheet with McClean in the side.
The Wes Hoolahan Position: Wes Hoolahan
Hoolahan did not have his best game on Friday, but the match was played in the air. Ireland will move the ball o the ground a lot more this evening, and the Norwich man will be vital in creating chances. He will sit behind the striker and can do a job.
Striker: Jon Walters
Daryl Murphy is injured, and Shane Long is just returning. While Walters has featured on the right for Ireland throughout the campaign, he is needed up front tonight. He has scored three times in this group against Poland, Scotland and Georgia. We could do with another tonight please Jon. Shane Long’s introduction around the 60 minute mark would cause a tired and suspect Bosnian back four all sorts of problems.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.