Wales and the Republic of Ireland meet on Monday night in their final game of the first round of 2018 World Cup qualifying.
Both nations could win Group D if current leaders Serbia falter at home to Georgia, but it is more likely that they are playing for second spot and a place in next month’s play-offs.
Here, we look at some of the main talking points ahead of what is sure to be a dramatic night in Cardiff.
Winner takes it all
Nine group runners-up into eight play-off spots do not go, and the number of permutations arising from that fact have left even the wisest of mathematicians scratching their heads. But Wales know a victory will guarantee their play-off place, while even a draw might be enough depending on the outcome of the Ukraine-Croatia game. The Republic also have a shot at finishing as one of the best eight runners-up, although even a win would not prevent them missing out if results elsewhere went against them.
There is more than enough riding on this game to conduct a serious inquest into what happened when the two countries met in Dublin in March. On that occasion the football was disappointing with few chances created at either end. But there was no shortage of controversy as Republic captain Seamus Coleman had his leg broken by a challenge from Wales defender Neil Taylor. Whether there will be any hangover from that game remains to be seen, but it is undeniable there was a lot of ill-feeling in Ireland at the time towards Taylor’s tackle.
Wales can fire without Bale
Champagne corks were popping in Dublin when Republic fans discovered that Gareth Bale would miss the Cardiff climax through injury. But the Real Madrid forward has strangely failed to score for Wales in 2017 and others have stepped up to provide a touch of stardust. Tom Lawrence’s increasing role for Wales was rewarded with his first goal in Georgia, a strike which was as spectacular as it was important. As well as the goal threat of Aaron Ramsey, Sam Vokes and Hal Robson-Kanu, Wales have the precociously talented Ben Woodburn to unleash from the bench if needs be.
Back in business?
Robbie Brady and James McClean sat out Friday’s 2-0 victory over Moldova through suspension and watched their team-mates produce just the performance required to set up the trip to Cardiff. Brady established himself as a player of genuine international quality at the Euro 2016 finals and although his form has dipped since, he remains a key player for manager Martin O’Neill, while McClean has contributed three of Ireland’s 11 goals to date in the current campaign, and it would be a major surprise if both did not return.
The spirit of Lille
Wales’ heroics in France last summer are a matter of record, but the Republic enhanced their own reputation by reaching the last 16 and pushing the hosts all the way before bowing out. When O’Neill seeks to inspire his troops with reference to past glories, the qualifier victory over world champions Germany on the road to the finals merits honourable mention. But it is the 1-0 win over Italy in Lille in their final group game which comes more readily to mind, and it will be a repeat of that kind of display for which he will hope in Cardiff.
Source: By PA Sport Staff