Martin O’Neill and his Republic of Ireland team headed off to Bosnia on Thursday, for what had been billed as a defining game, not only in the European Championship 2016 qualifying but for his managerial future as Irish manager. A two legged affair that would see if the Irish would be heading to France next year. Bosnia, Ireland’s opponents would be a tough nut to crack and the small band of Irish supporters that were able to get tickets travelled in hope rather than confidence as it was a pretty depleted squad that boarded the flight. O’Neill’s men had done well to grab third spot in a tricky group and the highlight of the campaign had to be the fact they took four points off World Champions Germany. When the play off draw was made and it was Bosnia that were to be the opponents, Irish fans were licking their lips at the possibility of qualification.
The venue for the game was Zenica a very hostile ground and a favourite for the hosts to play in. Martin sent out his team with a specific game plan in their minds and it worked spectacularly. To me it looked like the sit and hold, give nothing stupid away and if they could grab a draw to keep the tie alive for the return leg in Dublin. The talk all around Dublin during the week was how tough the Bosnians would be to beat, especially in their own back yard. Not really knowing a lot about Ireland,s opponents the the Irish fans had tended to big them up in many pubs and clubs as the build up gathered momentum during the week. The overwhelming feeling coming from inside the Irish camp was that they must not lose. I have always stated that Martin O’Neills team selection is very hard to predict and again he pulled a few surprises out of his bag of tricks when he named his starting eleven. He took a risk with an experimental back four that went beautifully right on the night, Richard Keogh was the solid rock and nothing got past him and he put in a near perfect performance, but in my opinion O’Neill’s master stroke was to play Robbie Brady in midfield, this was team selection at its best. Brady ran the midfield and his choice of pass on the night was superb.
The fact that Brady scored the opening goal of the game was just the cherry on the cake. Overall the game was very hard to watch as both sides never sparked into life. The real talking point of the night was the fact a huge fog descended on the ground in the second half and it made it impossible to clearly see the players on the TV monitors in fact the fog was so bad it was a miracle the game went the distance. The equalising goal by the Bosnians was scored by Dzeko, but it was very bad defending by James McClean that allowed him in. If you look back at pre match predictions and the talk that the Bosnians were to be feared, you have to think in my opinion they have to be able to play better because I was very disappointed with them on the night.
Overall Martin O’Neill was extremely happy with the outcome, but as we know, this is technically only half time. Ireland are expecting to have a few players back for the return leg and then the real work starts at 7.45 on Monday night.