Jonathan Walters was the hero as his double sealed Republic of Ireland’s spot at Euro 2016 thanks to a 3-1 aggregate play-off win over Bosnia-Herzegovina.
With the first leg finishing 1-1 it was all to play for in Dublin and Stoke City forward Walters was on target in each half in a 2-0 win on Monday to ensure Ireland’s fans can start planning a trip to France next June.
The opener came amid controversy as referee Bjorn Kuipers harshly penalised Senad Lulic for handball in the area and Walters – who was suspended in the first leg – made no mistake from 12 yards.
The home fans may think the decision provided long-awaited justice for Thierry Henry’s infamous handball which essentially knocked Ireland out of a World Cup 2010 play-off against France.
But there was no arguing with Walters’ second as he squeezed his shot past Asmir Begovic at the far post with 20 minutes remaining to send the majority of the crowd into raptures.
For Bosnia, the wait for a first European Championship appearance continues and coach Mehmed Bazdarevic will rue his side’s failure to create clear-cut chances despite seeing plenty of the ball.
Perhaps understandably there was a tense opening to the match, although Begovic was alert to get a foot on Robbie Brady’s dangerous low left-wing centre.
The hosts gradually started to assert themselves and Emir Spahic went into the book for a crude challenge on Jeff Hendrick with the Derby County midfielder bursting down the left.
And Martin O’Neill’s took the lead in the 24th minute in contentious circumstances.
Referee Kuipers harshly judged that Lulic handled Murphy’s cross with his hand close to his body and Walters rolled the resulting penalty past former Stoke City team-mate Begovic into the bottom-left corner.
Bosnia responded well to going behind and Edin Dzeko flashed an effort wide before cushioning a header into the path of Haris Medunjanin, who volleyed over from the edge of the box.
Ireland were penned in deep at the start of the second half and Bosnia wasted a great chance to level in the 55th minute.
The lively Edin Visca showed Brady a clean pair of heels and cut back for Lulic, who completely miscued his eight-yard shot.
Bosnia dominated possession, but a resolute Ireland defence meant home goalkeeper Darren Randolph was seldom troubled.
And Ireland made sure of the win in the 70th minute when Brady’s free-kick from the left was directed by Ognjen Vranjes into Walters’ path and he side-footed past Begovic at the near post.
Shane Long had a chance to make it 3-0, but stumbled under pressure from Spahic, while Vedad Ibisevic volleyed against the crossbar in stoppage time, though it made no difference as Ireland qualified for back-to-back Euros for the first time.
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