THE first Euro 2016 play-off tie summed up the occasion in one word – UNDERS.
Norway v Hungary screamed under 2.5 goals and that’s exactly how it turned out as the home crashed to a 1-0 defeat after a game they dominated.
Unders could be a recurring theme for the four ties (eight games) and I tell you what – Martin O’Neill would give up the last pint of Guinness in Dublin for a 0-0 draw in Zenica on Friday night.
O’Neill’s squad has been ravaged by injury with striker Shane Long the latest to call off. That’s a blow as the matchwinner against Germany has been brilliant for his country recently. He’s likely to be replaced by Daryl Murphy who hit a hat-trick for Ipswich last weekend but hasn’t scored for his country.
Keepers Kieren Westwood, Shay Given and Rob Elliot are also out so Darren Randolph will start for the third game running.
John O’Shea is suspended and fellow defender David Meyler is out with a knee injury but Alan Judge is available again after a hamstring problem.
There have been two Irelands in the Euro 2016 qualifiers but which one will turn up for the play-offs? O’Neill’s men took four points off world champions Germany but one from two meetings with Scotland.
After a slow start to their Group B they were impressive and O’Neill has every right to panic when he looks at the opposition team sheet and sees the name of Miralem Pjanic.
The Roma midfielder is a class act and deadball delight. He and Serie A team-mate have been in sparkling form and if O’Neill finds a way to stop them he could be halfway to Paris-dise.
Bosnia are 1-1 favourites with Coral and William Hill and will probably have to take a lead to Dublin to qualify. A draw is 12-5 at McBookie and the Irish are as big as 18-5 with the Scots firm to win on the night and 6-5 at Paddy Power to qualify.
Bosnia conceded 12 goals in qualifying, more than any team in the play-offs, and that will convince O’Neill his men can score and are 7-10 at Coral to do so.
O’Neill will try to keep it tight and the longer it stays 0-0 the happier he’ll be away. Under 2.5 goals again is possible and pays 8-15 at Coral.
It could take the brilliance of Pjanic to find a way through. He has scored four in his last six for Roma and is 4-1 at sportingbet to net while former Man City star Dzeko has netted in his last two internationals. He is 17-10 at McBookie to do so again.
Bosnia to qualify
Dzeko to score