Sporting Advent Calendar #24: Irish soccer reawakens with playoff triumph
Important result in the fog in Zenica followed by a famous night back in the Aviva
Republic of Ireland’s Seamus Coleman and Daryl Murphy congratulate goalscorer Jonathan Walters. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
You might argue that the greater part of this victory was secured in the fog of Zenica where most of the spectators got to see a game of one half; which half, of course, depended on the end of the ground your seat was in.
The draw there seemed like a good result even after Ireland had surrendered the lead they took through Robbie Brady fairly late on but there was the fear that when push came to shove, Bosnia’s bigger names would step up to the plate and deliver the performance required in the return game to rescue qualification. We needn’t have worried; while the Irish improved, Edin Dzeko and co were poor to the end and so Jon Walters goals, one in each half, wrapped up Ireland’s place at next summer’s European finals.
Afterwards, when Dzeko said the referee had to take a share of the blame for awarding a ridiculous penalty, the Bosnian skipper had a point but the striker also had the presence of mind to wonder why his side’s attacking play had been so completely toothless throughout. Only in the closing few minutes, when their fate was all but sealed, did the visitors really show any urgency against an Irish side that was showing signs of believing they belonged at a big tournament again.
For Walters, the two goals rounded off a great campaign but there were less likely heroes over the two legs with Ciaran Clark and Richard Keogh, for instance, central to Ireland’s successful containment of an attack that was supposed to be Bosnia’s biggest asset.
The victory made for another great night at a stadium that hadn’t really seen any until a few weeks earlier when Germany came to call and there was a hint of slapstick about it all too with Emir Spahic carrying on like a man who had backed himself to see red before the final whistle. His couldn’t quite pull it off but the locals were scarcely complaining as he gave away the free that led to Ireland’s second.