Euro elation has Ireland in Clover

Ireland manager Martin O'Neill (left) celebrates with Jon Walters after the 2-0 win against Bosnia and Herzegovina in Dublin on Monday. Ireland sealed a Euro spot with a 3-1 aggregate victory.
Ireland manager Martin O'Neill (left) celebrates with Jon Walters after the 2-0 win against Bosnia and Herzegovina in Dublin on Monday. Ireland sealed a Euro spot with a 3-1 aggregate victory.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Walters scores twice but hails 'team of heroes' as strategy of attack against Bosnia brings decisive win in second leg

DUBLIN • Jon Walters described the Republic of Ireland's victory over Bosnia as the greatest moment in his career but insisted the acclaim for reaching Euro 2016 should be equally divided among a "team of heroes".

Walters, back from suspension, scored both goals in the 2-0 win as Martin O'Neill's team booked a berth in France.

O'Neill identified the Stoke City forward as Ireland's outstanding performer during the qualifying stages but Walters said it was a victory for the team's collective spirit.

"There was a whole team of heroes out there," said the Stoke City player. "We got there in the end and it is the best moment of my career, in any shirt.

To qualify for the European Championship finals is unbelievable. You've got to take in the atmosphere because these moments don't come around... very often."

Walters slotted home a first-half penalty and then doubled Ireland's lead in the 70th minute to set up a 3-1 aggregate win.

"Walters has had a qualifying tournament to remember," O'Neill said of his joint-top scorer, with Robbie Keane also netting five times.

"There have been a number of fantastic performances and fantastic performers and I think Walters has topped the lot."

O'Neill trumpeted beforehand Ireland's intention to attack rather than rest on a precarious away-goal advantage. However, with a starting XI who boasted a total of just 18 international goals between them - whereas Bosnia striker Edin Dzeko had 45 alone - no one was anticipating that the hosts would blow the visitors away.

Bosnia had long bouts of possession, finishing with 69 per cent of the ball.

If Ireland were to progress, they would need the overriding feature of O'Neill's two-year tenure - tenacity. And no one has personified that better than Walters.

The 32-year-old hurtled around the pitch relentlessly, appalled defenders and inspired team-mates.

"I couldn't be more proud of this team," said O'Neill, whose side were almost written off in June when they could only draw 1-1 with Scotland in Dublin.

Since then, Ireland beat Gibraltar, Georgia and world champions Germany to earn third place in Group D, and finished the job at Lansdowne Road.

"I hold the players in the highest esteem. They don't have everything but courage and determination are things they have in abundance," said O'Neill.

It may not have been especially pretty but even without the vast experience of John O'Shea and Shay Given, a makeshift partnership of Ciaran Clark and Richard Keogh defended manfully in front of Darren Randolph in both legs.

Substitute Shane Long could have added a third but Randolph's goal was untested until Vedad Ibisevic rattled the crossbar in injury time.

Bosnia boss Mehmed Bazdarevic said: "The team that beat us played very well and had more chances.

"We played as well as we could, and we tried to match the Irish players in an aggressive game."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2015, with the headline 'Euro elation has Ireland in Clover'. Print Edition | Subscribe