We have often heard people comment when the draw is made for competitions that somewhere in the World Cup Qualifiers Week draw we will have a Group of Death. I have never really given much thought to those comments, as let us be realistic, it is football nobody is going to die. But if you take those Group of Death comments and have a look at Group D in the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers, you would say that this group falls into that category. Wales, Austria, Serbia, Moldova and the Republic of Ireland are battling to qualify for Russia 2018. Martin O’ Neill and his squad have a very tough road to travel to get to the 2018 World Cup Finals and having drawn their first game two all in Serbia, they knew going into their most recent games against Georgia in Dublin and Moldova in Chisinau, that two victories were needed to keep them in with a chance of qualification.
First up for the men in green were Georgia who travelled to Dublin on the back of a defeat against Austria in their first game. The Georgian side are always hard to play against as they are pretty well organised by coach Vladimir Weiss. It was to a tough night for the Irish and they could easily have fallen behind when Georgia hit the crossbar. That Irish performance in the first half was one of the poorest I have seen in a longtime. It was very scrappy and lacked any conviction, in fact Ireland created nothing in the first half of football that anyone could shout about. According to all reports which I have heard since the game, Martin O’ Neill gave the team a right rollicking at half time. The Irish team were back out on the pitch well before the Georgian’s just before the start of the second half started and I am sure their ears must have been still ringing from O’Neill’s words. It seemed to do the trick and in the second half Ireland were a completely different side, getting to the ball first and starting to create a few chances. Ireland took the lead in the 56th minute when new captain Seamus Coleman broke down the Irish right and with a couple of deflections off his opponents scored what turned out to be the winner. The goal will probably go down as the scrappiest one ever scored at the Aviva stadium, but who cares, it gave the Irish a very needed victory. One real sour note on the night was when Robbie Brady had to be stretchered off after a clash of heads, it looked awful within in the stadium and the live TV pictures did not make it look any better. Brady left the field of play with an oxygen mask on and thankfully once he came around he was ok, but suffering a bad concussion. The performance on the night was poor and in fairness it was a lucky win, lucky win or not, it was three points in the bag.
Having stumbled to a victory in World Cup Qualifiers in Dublin against Georgia, Martin O’Neill and his squad headed to a tricky game against Moldova. Going into games like these can be very difficult at any level in football because you are expected to win. If you add to that the fact that Martin had lost Jeff Henderick and Robbie Brady from the Georgia game you can see how awkward this game could have been. Ireland had come in for a lot of criticism after their performances against Serbia and Georgia and they needed to put in a good shift against Moldova. All the worries were laid to rest after only two minutes when Shane Long put Ireland one up when he was played in by a superb Hoolahan ball. The early goal certainly calmed all the nerves on and off the pitch and it was exactly the start that was required. The Moldovan manager Igor Dibrovolski had made five changes to his team that played Serbia and it payed off to Irish horror in the 45th minute when Bugaiov equalised. It was awful defending by the Irish defence who had pushed right up into their opponents half. Shane Duffy, a player who I like, will seriously have to look at his positioning for the goal because if he had dropped off by at least eight yards, Bugaiov would not have got a run on him. It was a goal that surely would have had Martin O’Neill seething at half time because he could see two points going down the pan after such a good start. The Irish manager need not have worried as two second half goals by James McClean sealed a well earned victory. If you look at the overall game in fairness, the Moldovan,s had the one chance and were a poor side. This team are going to be the whipping boys of this group and I do not see them taking points off anyone.
Looking back over the World Cup Qualifiers week it has been a superb one for the Irish. Wales only drawing with Georgia at home has put a two point gap between Ireland and our Welsh neighbours from across the Irish Sea. Serbia are the team in form and they will need to be taken care of when they come to Dublin. Up next for the Irish are Austria away and if Martin O’Neill’s men can get anything there, this group of so called death may not be to much to worry about on the road to Russia 2018.