When the Republic of Ireland met Scotland in Dublin in June, the Irish description of the game was “must win”. It was drawn 1-1.
The result left Martin O’Neill’s squad in fourth place in Group D. Some three months on, as they face Gibraltar away on Friday night and Georgia at home on Monday, the must win nature of things has not changed.
With nine points from six games so far, the Republic need to be on 15 when they prepare to meet Germany and Poland next month. Even so, unless there is drama elsewhere, it feels like a fight with Scotland for third place in a squeezed group.
O’Neill and his assistant, Roy Keane, have gone through the build-up showing diplomatic respect for Gibraltar. Keane has stressed caution, saying the imperative is to avoid an FA Cup-style giant-killing, while O’Neill pointed out that it took Germany 28 minutes to score against Gibraltar in June, and that the half-time score was 1-0. It finished 7-0.
“If you get the time, it is worth watching Gibraltar’s game against Germany,” O’Neill said. “They were excellent for half an hour. They have learnt a lot in the last 12 months.”
However, Gibraltar, in a first qualification campaign, have played and lost six and conceded 34. Theirs is an exercise in damage limitation. Germany’s 7-0 was the same score the Irish beat Gibraltar by in Dublin last October.
There is likely to be a familiar Irish line-up with the exception of Everton midfielder Darron Gibson, banned for drink-driving this week and in danger of seeing his career peter out at the age of 27.
Republic of Ireland (probable): Given; Coleman, O’Shea, Wilson, Brady; Whelan, McCarthy; O’Kane, Hoolahan, Walters; Keane.Reuse content