Republic of Ireland face a home fixture against Poland in a pivotal qualification encounter at the Aviva Stadium. The two countries, who have yet to play each other, both know that they need something from this crucial match if they are to progress from Group D to the European Championships in 2016. The match kicks off at 7.45pm on Sunday 29th March.
Republic of Ireland vs. Poland
The last competitive matches between the nations came in the European qualifying campaign in 1991. A 0-0 draw in Ireland and 3-3 draw in Poland proved too little as both narrowly missed out on qualifying to Euro ‘92. In a time where only the team finishing first progressed to the finals; Republic of Ireland and Poland finished second and third, just one and two points off England who won the group. Surprisingly enough, this year could read similar with the current standings in the group:
|4||Republic of Ireland||4||2||1||1||10||3||+7||7|
Countries who finish first and second automatically qualify for Euro 2016. Third place will face a play-off.
Described by many as the toughest group – and rightly so – to qualify from, only three points separate the top four teams. Poland sit top, a win ahead of joint second placed Germany, Scotland and their next opponents, the Republic of Ireland. Elsewhere in the group on Sunday, Germany travel to Georgia and Scotland face Gibraltar at home which should see the Germans and Scots hit the ten point mark.
Expected line up:
Republic of Ireland: Shay Given, Stephen Ward, John O’Shea, Ciaran Clark, Seamus Coleman, Aiden McGeady, Glen Whelan, Stephen Quinn, James Mclean, Jonathan Walters, Robbie Keane
Poland: Wojciech Szczęsny, Pawel Olkowski, Kamil Glik, Lukasz Szukala, Jakub Wawrzyniak, Sławomir Peszko, Tomasz Jodlowiec, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Arkadiusz Milik, Sebastian Mila, Robert Lewandowski
With Jeff Hendrick and now Darron Gibson- who has pulled out of the match with a groin injury- absent, Ireland will have to make do with a makeshift midfield. Glenn Whelan looks likely to start with his experience and Stephen Quinn could come in having played in their international friendly against USA in November. Stephen Ward remains a doubt at left back but will start if he is fit; Robbie Brady will cover if needed. James Mclean says his “ankle should be fine” and that he is “ready for the clash” after sitting out Tuesday’s training, so should start on the opposite wing of Everton’s Aiden McGeady. One thing the Irish will need on Sunday is experience, and this will be met with their all-time highest capped and top goal scorer, Robbie Keane. Since Ireland’s 1-0 defeat to Scotland, the legend was given the MLS Most Valuable Player Award after 19 goals and 14 assists in just 29 appearances along with scoring a 111th minute winner in LA Galaxy’s 2014 MLS Cup victory over the New England Revolution. Jonathan Walters should partner him up front who will be hoping to add to his five international goals for his country.
Questions remain over who should start in goal for Poland, with Szczęsny sitting on the bench at Arsenal for a number of months. Former Celt and now Bournemouth keeper, Arthur Boruc, has been in consistent form this season, helping his side sit top of the Championship. But the Gunner should keep his place after his heroics against Germany in October. With Borussia Dortmund’s Lukasz Piszczek still injured, FC Köln’s Pawel Olkowski (after just signing a four-year contract for his club) will come in at right back for the second time in Poland’s qualifying campaign – the other being in their 7-0 win over Gibraltar. Artur Jedrzejczyk remains on the sideline with a cruciate ligament rupture which will see Jakub Wawrzyniak – who played in their 2-0 win over Germany – fill the left back space. Another FC Köln player, Slawomir Peszko, also looks likely to start with Rennes winger, Kamil Grosickis’, absence. Robert Lewandowski will lead the line and will no doubt have a say if the Poles are to come away with anything on the night.
Ireland’s most capped goal keeper, Shay Given, hasn’t started for Aston Villa in the Premier League but has enjoyed an FA Cup run where he has shown he is more than capable of doing his job. Given does, however, know he isn’t assured a start and says he will “support whoever will be in net”. But with his experience, the men in green could do with him between the sticks. He added that he expects the “Arriva to be rocking, the fans will be right behind us from the first minute”. Manager Martin O’Neill has urged his players to “forget club struggles” ahead of the match, perhaps aimed at Sunderland’s John O’Shea and centre-back partner, Ciaran Clark, who both look set for relegation battles with their clubs. Assistant manager, Roy Keane, who is never one for shying away from the media, has rallied his team ahead of the match but says that they are “too reliant on Robbie [Keane] and it’s time for other players to help him out”.
Poland manager, Adam Nawalka, defended his surprise exclusion of Borussia Dormund right winger, Jakub Blaszczykowski, explaining that “it was too early for him to return to the team, especially for such a difficult away game”. The player had suffered with injury but has since returned to his club helping revive their season. Midfielder Sławomir Peszko, whose first cap for Poland came in a 3-2 victory over Ireland in a friendly, expects his opponents to “play aggressively” and adds “the start of the match will be chaotic and nervous…if we can score first, the only way Ireland came come at us will be from set pieces or long balls into our box”.
An Ireland win would almost definitely see four teams in Group D sit joint top until mid-June; giving this fixture extra spice. With Poland struggling at the right hand side of the field, Ireland surely will need to exploit this with McGeady’s undeniable ability to create and score goals; whether he will do this or not remains unanswered until after the match. A tough fixture and one which will set the tone for the rest of the qualifying campaign; this is not one to miss.