Republic of Ireland almost snatched a win in a foggy night in Zenica, only for the impressive Edin Dzeko to level the score and ensure Bosnia keep their qualifying hopes alive ahead of the match in Dublin. Both sides will have some important players back to the side and everything suggests we will witness another close encounter.
Having done well to qualiy for the play-off, Republic of Ireland experienced all sorts of problems ahead of the first leg in Zenica, but team’s fighting spirit and hard work proved enough for a very good result on Friday. Chances were few and far between for the big part of the high-profile match, and the managers and fans had trouble even seeing the action in the second period due to a thick fog that descended on the Stadion Bilino Polje. The Irish were rewarded for a hard-working performance in the dying moments as Robbie Brady cut in from the right wing and placed his shot into the near corner to the delight of the visiting fans, but the lead only lasted for three minutes as Edin Dzeko passed the ball into the net after the nice cut back from Ognjen Vranjes. Even with that goal, Ireland are in the driving seat as they will go through in case of a goalless draw, so chances are we will see another defence-oriented performance from the Boys in Green. There have finally been some good news for Martin O’Neill as Jonathan Walters and John O’Shea return from suspension, with the latter still a doubt through a hamstring problem, but expected to start nonetheless. Meanwhile, Shane Long is unlikely to recover from an ankle injury in time, whilst Daryl Murphy should again be preferred to veteran Robbie Keane up front.
Bosnia-Herzegovina recovered well from a poor start to the qualifying campaign with new coach Mehmed Bazdarevic bringing much needed improvement to the side. Impressive wins over Wales and Cyprus at the end of the regular stage proved sufficient for the Dragons to make it to the play-offs, and with all key men available, they were expected to defeat under-strength Republic of Ireland in the first leg. However, while they did dominate the encounter, Bosnia failed to carve out any clear-cut chances and eventually narrowly avoided defeat. It would appear as though the Dragons were too cautious in the first leg and even though they now need to attack in search of a win or a high-scoring draw, they are unlikely to make major changes to their style of play. Coach Mehmed Bazdarevic is sweating over the fitness of star striker Edin Dzeko and full-back Mensur Mujdza, both of whom suffered injuries in the first leg, and the potential absence of the AS Roma forward could seriously damage team’s chances of scoring at Aviva Stadium. The only positive is that Everton midfielder Muhamed Besic has served a three-match ban, but it remains to be seen how much he can help after spending two months on the sidelines.
Given the first leg result, Republic of Ireland are highly unlikely to adopt attack-minded approach, but they will rather wait for an opportunity to catch the opposition on the break. Meanwhile, Bosnia could again struggle to create goalscoring opportunities, and we definitely expect to see another close game.
Verdict: Under 2.5 goals
Best Odds: 1/2