Walters fires Ireland into Euro 2016 finals

A double from Jon Walters books Martin O’Neill’s side a place in France next summer

Republic of Ireland 2 Bosnia-Herzogovina 0 (Ireland win 3-1 on aggregate)

Having been here four years ago too for the game against Estonia, the Dutch referee who oversaw this compelling Ireland victory could be forgiven for thinking that every play-off game in Dublin ends with roofs being raised and pitch-side parties. It’s not been always so but the tide does seem to be turning.

Here, they wrapped up qualification for next summer's European Championships in the most convincing of ways and if Bjorn Kuipers helped them take their first step towards a memorable victory by awarding a hopelessly soft penalty that Jon Walters converted, the Bosnians had no complaints overall.

Ireland were better side from almost beginning to end of a what was fast and furious affair, the visitors were lucky to make it through the 90 minutes with 11 men on the field and the closest they came to scoring was in injury time when Vedad Ibisevic clattered the crossbar from close range by which point Walters’s second goal had long since put the outcome beyond any reasonable doubt.


The feeling beforehand had been that the both sides had better performances in them than the ones they had turned in on Friday night but when Richard Keogh sliced an early attempt at a clearance into the stand and the Bosnians then returned possession with a misplaced pass out of play within moments of their throw in, it was hard to avoid the sense that we might all have been kidding ourselves.

It didn’t take long, though, for Ireland to start to assert themselves with Martin O’Neill’s men upping the tempo and pressuring their opponents into a succession of mistakes that ensured the home side enjoyed the bulk of possession, much of it well inside the opposition half.

The visitors, one suspected on the strength of this, really had been overestimated but then they were being given very little chance to remind anyone of what it was that we had all seen in them when they got to Brazil last summer. As the Irish sought and succeeded in dictating the pattern of things in almost every area of the field, Mehmed Bazdarevic's side struggled to find any sort of attacking rhythm and Darren Randolph did not have a save of note to make over the entire 90 minutes.

At the other end, if not everywhere, Walters was superb but he wasn't the only one. The presence of the Stoke City striker helped to bring an awful lot more out of Daryl Murphy than we had seen from him in Zenica while Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady, who had been returned to left back, contributed hugely over the course of the night.

The rest of the Irish defence picked up where it had left off on Friday, chasing and closing down everything and everyone that looked likely to pose the slightest threat and while there were fleeting moments when Miralem Pjanic, Haris Medunjanin and Edin Dzeko caused just a little alarm in the stands, the Irish created both the bulk and the better of the chances.

Medunjanin certainly had his moments but none quite as memorable as the one produced by his opposite number, James McCarthy early on when he skipped and tricked his way out of a tight situation just in front of Coleman and started a sweeping cross-field move that led to an early Irish chance. It passed but McCarthy never stopped making his presence felt.

There were others Irish chances after a penalty awarded midway through the first half for a handball that Ervin Zukanovic really can't have known anything about and it wasn't until the second half that Ireland came under any really sustained pressure.

Brady helped break what was threatening to turn into a bit of siege six minutes after the break with a crunching tackle on Edin Visca and followed it up with darting run forward but when he was badly caught out moments later by Vranjes’s angled ball for the same man and Ireland were desperately lucky that Senad Lulic hopelessly scuffed his shot.

Ireland needed a second goal if they were to start feeling secure and they got it with just short of 20 minutes left to play. Emir Spahic, having been booked early on then survived a couple of yellow card scares looked to have copper-fasted his sending-off with a wild challenge on Walters; he somehow got away with it but when Brady floated the resulting free in, Vranjes hooked the ball dangerously to just beyond the six yard box where the Irish striker had time to pick his spot just inside the right hand post then volley home.

Now the crowd really began to sense that victory and a place at the finals in France were both firmly within Ireland's grasp. Shane Long, on for Murphy, might have sealed the deal with 15 minutes remaining but stumbled as he slowed to shoot after doing well initially to get into the clear.

It didn't matter. The Bosnian manager threw on all his strikers in the hope of sparking something but that late Ibisevic shot aside, the visitors simply could break down a resolute defence again built around the brilliant Keogh and Ciaran Clark.

O'Shea got on at the end too for the impressive Glenn Whelan for what might just have been his last appearance had the night gone a different way. O'Neill had talked about the next phase of his job being to replace some of the team's older players. That, though, might just be on the back burner for now.

Republic of Ireland: Randolph (Wrst Ham); Coleman (Everton), Keogh (Derby County), Clark (Aston Villa), Brady (Norwich City); McCarthy (Everton), Whelan (Stoke City); Walters (Stoke City), Hoolahan (Norwich City), Hendrick (Derby County). Subs: McClean (West Brom) for Hoolahan and Long (Southampton) for Murphy (both 55 mins), O’Shea (Sunderland) for Whelan (90 mins).

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Begovic; Vranjes, Zukanovic, Spahic , Kolasinac; Medunjanin, Cocalic; Visca, Pjanic, Lulic; Dzeko. Subs: Besic for Cocalic (half-time), Djuric for Medunjanin (69 mins) Ibisevic for Lulic (80 mins)

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Industry and Employment Correspondent at The Irish Times