After missing out on the 2012 tournament by losing to Portugal in the play-offs, Bosnia-Herzegovina will be desperate to avoid the same scenario by winning the first leg of the Euro 2016 play-off in Zenica. Looking to spoil their plans will be injury-plagued Republic of Ireland, whose away performances against top sides have been anything but impressive.
Bosnia-Herzegovina haven’t enjoyed a great deal of success since the country gained independence from Yugoslavia, but the national team were always quite competitive and they finally qualified for a major tournament by reaching the 2014 World Cup last summer. Their first appearance at the biggest stage did not go well as they were pipped by Nigeria to a place in the knockout stages and that clearly left a negative effect on the Dragons, who struggled at the start of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign. Nevertheless, the arrival of Mehmed Bazdarevic did manage to shake up the squad in the right time and Bosnia were soon back playing to their potential. Some impressive showings at home and victories over Israel, Andorra and Wales ensured the team remained in contention for a place at the tournament finals, with hard-fought win over Cyprus proving enough to clinch the play-off berth. It is important to win that the final two wins were achieved without Manchester City star Edin Dzeko, who is now back and ready to make life difficult for Ireland defenders, together with Miralem Pjanic, Edin Visca and Senad Lulic. And with all key men available for selection, only Ermin Zec is missing, Bosnia stand a good chance of defeating under-strength Ireland.
Having lost all three matches on their second appearance at the European Championship finals four years ago, Republic of Ireland were determined to reach Euro 2016 and make things right in France. That was never going to be an easy task in the group with World Cup holders Germany as well as Poland and Scotland, but the Boys in Green did well to keep their hopes of clinching automatic berth alive until the very end. Martin O’Neill’s charges eventually had to settle for a place in the play-offs after losing in Poland, and if they were at full strength they would probably be a tough nut to crack in Zenica. However, the team that step onto the pitch at Bilino Polje will not be even close to the best that Martin O’Neill has, and that is a major cause for concern. John O’Shea and Jonathan Walters are banned for the first leg, whereas Shay Given, Rob Elliot, Keiren Westwood, David Meyler, Shane Long and Paul McShane have all been ruled out through injury. And while the boss still have some decent players at his disposal, chances are the likes of Jonathan Walters and John O’Shea will be sorely missed. With Daryl Murphy, who failed to score in first 16 caps, set to lead the line, the visitors have little to hope for ahead of the trip to Bosnia.
Bosnia have been quite impressive on home soil even with some important players missing and with the hosts now at full strength, the bright run in Zenica looks likely to continue. Meanwhile, the Irish are plagued with selection problems and they can only hope to keep the tie alive ahead of the return leg in Dublin.
Verdict: Home win
Best Odds: 1/1
Bookmaker: William Hill