Ireland welcome Wales to the Aviva Stadium on Friday night in a group D World Cup qualifying clash, and it promises to be a thrilling encounter. Only one side will qualify automatically for Russia 2018, with eight of nine runners up heading into play off games. Ireland and Wales are in a tough group along with Serbia and Austria, and while there is a long way to go, the outcome of this match could be significant for both teams’ qualifying campaigns.
Martin O’Neill’s men top the group with ten points after four games, but Chris Coleman’s Welsh side are four points back in third place after drawing three successive qualifiers. The latter was keen to play down the idea that this was a do-or-die game for Wales, but they surely can’t afford to let Ireland increase the four point gap. Irish assistant manager Roy Keane was equally quick to play down the idea that his side might be happy with a point, insisting they will go for the win.
It all adds up to an intriguing battle, especially in light of other group fixtures. Serbia – currently 2nd in group D – are away in Georgia, and Austria – currently 4th – play at home to bottom side Moldova. The Austrians have ground to make up as they’ve gathered just four points from four games so far, but this is a side that qualified for Euro 2016 with nine wins from ten, and they are fancied to put Moldova to the sword.
Another one-sided affair that should go the way of the home favourite is the group G clash between Italy and Albania. The Italians are level with Spain at the top of the group with ten points, both securing three wins and drawing against each other. This should be a routine victory while Spain face the groups 3rd placed side, Israel.
Ireland v Wales
Both teams to score looks a great bet at +120 with Betfair for the match in Dublin on Friday night.
Ireland have had a near perfect start to their qualifying campaign, winning three straight games after a decent 2-2 away draw in Serbia. Daryl Murphy’s late equaliser earned that point, and the Irish have never looked back. They beat Georgia and Moldova, before James McClean’s second half goal gave them an impressive 1-0 away win in Austria. You’d have to go back 20 internationals to a 0-0 draw with England in June 2015 for the last time Ireland failed to score, and with home advantage they can be expected to test the Welsh defence.
For Wales the news that Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey are fit to take part is massive, and they will want to make up for missed opportunities in this group. After beating Moldova 4-0 in the opening group match, it looked as if the Welsh would continue their fine form from the Euros in a similar vein to Ireland. They’ve been pegged back to draws though in three successive qualifiers, despite leading each one. Austria twice came from behind to secure a 2-2 draw when they hosted Wales last October, but Chris Coleman’s men went on to draw with Georgia and Serbia at home. Bale’s goals had given them first half leads in both matches, but they couldn’t hold on to three points on either occasion. Wales have scored in each of their four qualifiers, and with Bale they possess a world class talent.
Italy v Albania
Italy are a short price to win this game, but can be backed to win to nil at -149 with Coral.
Gian Piero Ventura took the reins from Antonio Conte after Euro 2016, and he has overseen a solid start to the qualifying campaign. They’ve won three away matches against Israel, Macedonia and Liechtenstein, scoring at least three goals on each occasion. De Rossi’s late penalty secured a 1-1 draw with Spain when the big guns of the group met, and Friday’s match will be a good opportunity to take three points on home soil.
Albania have amassed six points in the group after wins over Macedonia and Liechtenstein, but they were beaten at home 2-0 by Spain and 3-0 by Israel.
Austria v Moldova
Austria also make appeal to win to nil at -143 with BetVictor.
This Austrian side may have under-performed at the European Championships, but they qualified in style after winning nine out of ten group matches. That was in a section that included Sweden, Russia and Montenegro, so no mean feat. They won their opening qualifier 2-1 in Georgia, but were held to a 2-2 draw by Wales on home soil in the next. A 3-2 defeat in Serbia followed, and a 1-0 home loss to Ireland has left them with a mountain to climb. They’re six points off the pace back in 4th place, so three points here will be vital.
Moldova are bottom of the table, but did at least claim their first point from a 1-1 draw with Georgia. However, they rarely score on their travels, and were beaten 1-0 here during Austria’s Euro 2016 qualifying game, after losing the home fixture 2-1.
Republic of Ireland v Wales – Both teams to score
Friday 24th March, 19:45
Italy to win to nil
Friday 24th March, 19:45
Austria to win to nil
Friday 24th March, 19:45