Walters You Beauty

How many times have we come across the famous group of death when it comes to qualifying for major tournaments. This campaign has been no different and Group D in the European section is where it is all happening as we enter the final few games. Any slip ups now will be costly for the competing nations and all the hard work that has been done in previous games will be consigned to the bin. In a six team group consisting of Serbia, Wales, Austria, Georgia, Moldova and the Republic of Ireland it has been very tight and the qualifying positions are still up for grabs. Martin O' Neill and his Irish squad have had a superb campaign and they have grown together as a group of players. Going into last weekends game against Austria in Dublin they sat second in the group, but only behind leaders Serbia on goal difference.

The game against the Austrians was one of the most anticipated to take place in the Aviva Stadium in quite a few years. The general consensus from the media and the supporters was that if Ireland could beat Austria it would basically knock them out of contention. In a week when assistant manager Roy Keane called for the players to put their bodies on the line to get a victory, a lot of the supporters were fancying a win. It is unusual for Ireland to be labelled as favourites but going into this game that is exactly what they were.

The game itself turned out to be a very strange one indeed. Ireland never got to grips with the Austrians in the first half and to be perfectly honest the away team controlled the first forty five minutes. The Irish could not get going and it was incredible how they kept giving away procession.

I watched on as Martin O'Neill lost his temper with most of his team for the sloppy performance he was witnessing, a game his side were favourites to win was falling apart in front of his eyes. All over the pitch the Irish players had simply not turned up, those who had, including Glen Whelan were having to work extra hard to keep the Austrians at bay. A goal for Austria was sure to come the way they were playing and it duly did in the 31st minute when a well worked corner taken by David Alaba was slammed home by Hinteregger. It really was a superb set piece, as dummy runs by Dragovic and Prodl took the Irish defence by surprise leaving Hinteregger room to get his shot away to score. Martin had to be delighted when the half time whistle went and his side were only one nil down as they just had not performed at all and even the crowd were becoming unsettled and starting to turn on the team. I am sure he tore into his team during his half time team talk and it did the trick as right from the restart they got stuck into the Austrians.

From the start of the half they put the Austrians under pressure and the boys in green started to go forward a lot more, which led to a couple of half chances. It was hard to work out whether Ireland had hit the magic button or the Austrians were prepared to sit back and defend their lead, you can not imagine that was the tactic and if it was, they were always going to end up in trouble. They only created one scoring chance in the second half when Florian Grillitsch turned in the box and had a shot which was superbly saved by Irish keeper Darren Randolph. It was a huge turning point in the game and in the 85th minute John Walters chased down a hopeful long ball and he out muscled the Austrian defender to take a shot that flew into the bottom left hand corner of the Austrian net. It was a piece of hard work that John is well known for, the goal turned the whole atmosphere both on the pitch and in the Stadium and as Ireland pushed on again you just felt they could now possibly win it. Moments later Ireland thought they had bagged all three points when Sahne Duffy headed home only for the referee to disallow the goal. It was a very controversial decision but in my opinion the official got it right, after all when you attempt to jump and head a ball it is not always a good idea to lead with your arm. So Martin O'Neill had to settle for a draw and overall it was a fair result, it means Ireland are still unbeaten in the group and who would have thought would have been the case when the draw was made.

In the end the result overall was fair for both the sides and it keeps the group ticking along nicely. Ireland and Serbia are still sitting on top of the group after Wales drew one all away against the Serbians. That was a huge result for the Irish and now we move onto September and the next round of games on the road to qualifying for the World Cup in Russia 2018.

Euro 2016 - Group F Preview

Group F is there for the taking for Ronaldo's Portugal but can David Alaba's Austria cause the upset.

Iceland are the hipsters choice and Hungary could just be there to make up the numbers.

Portugal

Qualifying record:

7 wins, 1 loss.

Top scorer:

Cristiano Ronaldo (5)

Projected top performer:

Renato Sanches  - The obvious answer would be to select CR7 for this answer but we all know what he's about already. Sanches was coverted by many of the worlds top teams prior to the end of last season before eventually signing for Bayern Munich in a deal which overall could cost the German giants €80 million.

He comes into the tournament off the back of breaking Ronaldos 12 year record of being the youngest international player for Portugal. At just 18 years old he could be the player to watch in the Euros with all the focus being set on Ronaldo, Sanches could shine bright and even overshadow his goalscoring machine team mate.

Expectations:

The Portuguese have always been something of a let down at major tournaments especially in the Ronaldo era, they should breeze through the group stage but after that it's anyone's guess.

Austria

Qualifying record:

9 wins, 1 draw.

Top scorer:

Marc Janko (7)

Projected top performer:

David Alaba - After strolling through what, on paper seemed a tough qualifying group Austria are very much in the dark horse category for the summer spectacle.

Bayern Munich star David Alaba is key to this success, whether playing in defence or as a midfielder Alaba has the class to hang with the big boys in world football and he's also joined by a very solid looking cast of support players.

Premier League players such as Marko Arnautovic and Kevin Wimmer give the Austrians plenty of options and whilst top scorer in qualifying Marc Janko may not be to everyones tastes he is very effective.

Expectations:

Getting out of the group is a must and i think with a bit of luck a run at the Quarter Finals isn't out of the question.

Iceland

Qualifying record:

6 wins, 2 draws, 2 losses.

Top scorer:

Gylfi Sigurðsson (6)

Projected top performer:

Gylfi Sigurðsson -  The Swansea star could be set for a big competition after leading the country in scoring during qualification.

Iceland’s best player by some distance, the attacking midfielder can provide a goal in an instant with either a long-range strike or a perfectly placed pass.

Ably assisted by veteran striker Eidur Gudjohnsen the pair provide a challenge for any team to deal with.

A strong qualification campaign has seen the minnows become a hipster choice and with players like Sigurðsson it's easy to see why.

Expectations:

Just being here is a massive achievement in itself for the tiny country, qualification from the group would make for an excellent tournament and with the new 3rd place team rule i won't count that out at this stage.

Hungary

Qualifying record:

4 wins, 4 draws, 2 losses. (Qualified via Playoffs)

Top scorer:

Tamas Priskin (2)

Projected top performer:

Balazs Dzsudzsak - The Bursaspor winger is maybe the only genuine talented player in the squad's ranks with an impressive club goal-scoring record for a winger he has the weight of a country laying on his shoulders for the next few weeks.

With workman like strikers and a goal keeper who wears grey tracksuit bottoms for every game, Hungary do little to excite but with a good team work ethic and Dzsudzsaks ability to get a goal they could surprise one or two.

Expectations:

Finishing the group stage in 3rd place is about as high as their expectations should be based on what is going to be a tough few weeks for the Hungarians