This could be a hugely consequential match looking at the unfolding dynamics of Group D. The Republic sit atop the standings with 10 points and know that a victory here could go a long way helping to secure eventual qualification. The plucky Serbians sit in second with 8 points but face a potentially thorny away encounter with Georgia.
This opens up the opportunity for Chris Coleman’s Welsh outfit. Wales have drawn their last three matches and probably need a victory here to keep their World Cup dreams alive. Talismanic figure Gareth bale is back to full fitness and hoping to take advantage of an Irish side nursing a smorgasbord of injury concerns.
Republic of Ireland v Wales | Friday 24 March | Aviva Stadium | 21:45
To Win (90 Mins)
Republic of Ireland 27/20 | Draw 2/1 | Wales 9/4
Republic of Ireland
Martin O’Neil’s side have had to wade through various injury issues. It does look as if James McCarthy will take part in the game, seeing him team up in the midfield with Glenn Whelan.
However, both Harry Arter and Wes Hoolahan will miss out due to injury, leaving their midfield options somewhat depleted. This may force them to utilise a 4-4-2 formation as opposed to the 4-5-1 formation they have tinkered with. Ciaran Clark also misses out due to injury, meaning that Keogh will likely partner O’Shea in the heart of defence.
Robbie Brady’s suspension couldn’t have really come at a worse time for an embattled line-up. Stephan Ward will deputize in the left full-back position. James McClean has been in excellent domestic and international form and will look to keep Gunter hemmed in with forceful running.
Stephen Ward is going to need to be switched on in order to contain Bale. He will likely hug the right-hand touchline and look to cut in onto that vicious left foot. He will be a threat throughout and will look to take advantage of any lapse in concentration. Shane Long will be their major threat, with his extreme pace a definite form of concern for Williams and Chester.
Gareth Bale’s return to fitness could not have been better timed as Chris Coleman looks to exploit an injury-ravaged Irish side. Conversely, Wales are refreshingly injury-light, with only striker Tom Lawrence injury-stricken.
Coleman has stated in the media that Wales really have to win this week. This may see him opt for an ultra-attacking line-up that will look to maximise the Bale effect and expose Northern Ireland’s absentees.
They will likely let Robson-Kanu lead the line on Friday night. He has had limited opportunities at West Brom following his Euro heroics, but a vital goal against Arsenal on Saturday shows his instinctive abilities in front of goal. Bale and Taylor will look to provide width while Ramsey will probably play in the nominal number ten role, with Allen and Ledley sitting in the middle of the park.
Verdict: Wales 23/10
I think that Coleman’s side had that big game mentality honed at the Euros and will capitalise on a depleted Northern Irish side. It is going to be very tight, but I expect the world class talent of Bale and Ramsey to give Wales a slight edge.
Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets