Irish keep chins up despite setbacks

PARIS • A diminished Republic of Ireland hope to emerge from the first leg of their Euro 2016 qualifying play-off away to Bosnia-Herzegovina tomorrow with their chances of reaching the finals still intact.

Martin O'Neill's side go to Zenica before hosting the Bosnians in Dublin on Monday with a place in France next summer up for grabs, but with suspensions and injuries giving the Irish manager plenty to think about.

"Make no mistake about it, the games will be difficult, but you wouldn't be expecting any sort of walkover in play-off games," said O'Neill, who must do without the suspended Jonathan Walters and John O'Shea and injured goalkeeper Shay Given.

GOING WITH THE FLOW

The momentum swinging towards them doesn't bother me, it genuinely doesn't bother me... We have earned the right to be there, particularly with our results against the world champions.

MARTIN O'NEILL, the Republic of Ireland manager, on their suspensions and injuries

Newcastle goalkeeper Rob Elliot and Southampton striker Shane Long - scorer of the goal that secured a famous 1-0 triumph over Germany last month - are also fitness concerns.

But O'Neill added: "The momentum swinging towards them doesn't bother me, it genuinely doesn't bother me. We have got ourselves into this position and we don't want to throw it away lightly.

"We have earned the right to be there, particularly with our results against the world champions."

While Ireland finished third (18 points) behind Germany and Poland in qualifying Group D, Bosnia (17 points) came in behind Wales and Belgium in Group B.

Mehmed Bazdarevic's squad features the likes of Chelsea goalkeeper Asmir Begovic and Roma duo Miralem Pjanic and Edin Dzeko. And along with that quality comes experience of these occasions, albeit the memories are not happy - Bosnia lost to Portugal in play-offs for the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.

Meanwhile, Scandinavian rivals Sweden and Denmark meet in the first leg of their tie in Solna, just outside Stockholm, on Saturday.

With Zlatan Ibrahimovic fresh from winning Sweden's Golden Ball award and having scored nine goals in six league games for Paris Saint-Germain, Erik Hamren's side will be hopeful of taking a lead into the return.

Denmark, meanwhile, will be without Hannover midfielder Leon Andreasen after he cut his hand with a knife opening a parcel and needed an operation.

Hungary had been poised to qualify automatically as the best third-placed team until a late Turkey goal in the 89th minute of their final match took them through instead. That was agonising for a country with a rich footballing history but which has not been to a major tournament since the 1986 World Cup.

However, Hungary, coached by German Bernd Storck, have another chance to progress as they face Norway over two legs, with the first game in Oslo today.

"We feel we know Hungary well and know what to expect," said Norway coach Per-Mathias Hogmo.

The other tie sees Ukraine host Slovenia in Lviv on Saturday before the return encounter in Maribor next Tuesday.

The four play-off winners will join the 19 other qualified nations and hosts France in the finals draw in Paris on Dec 12.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2015, with the headline 'Irish keep chins up despite setbacks'. Print Edition | Subscribe