Numbers suggest Ireland are up against it in Wales clash
Top-notch performance needed if Irish are to triumph over Euro 2016 semi-finalists
Manager Martin O’Neill said performance on par with that against Italy at Euro 2016 needed if Ireland are to beat Wales. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA Wire
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill suggested yesterday that it might take a performance on a par with the one against Italy at Euro 2016 if this side is to win against Wales and so severely dent Chris Coleman’s hopes of leading his team to top spot in this World Cup qualifying group.
Certainly, the respective numbers from last summer’s European finals and the qualifying games since strongly support the idea that Ireland will be up against it, although O’Neill might reasonably point to the fact that they are comfortably leading their rivals at present where it actually counts most – points on the board – after four games of the current campaign.
That the Welsh made it to the semi-finals of Euro 2016, two rounds further than Ireland, is a decent enough indication of the quality of the side, and the post-tournament analysis by Uefa tended to reinforce the impression that their performances had been, by most measures, generally superior.
While Ireland generated an average of 9.5 attempts on goal per game in France, the Welsh managed 11.33, and though they played only two more games, they attempted (2,333 to 1,119), and completed (1,960 to 869) more than twice as many passes over the course of their involvement in the tournament.
In relation to the one instance of both sides playing the same opponents, the contrast is not as stark as one might have expected, given the way the two games went. Wales attempted 422 passes in their quarter-final against Belgium, a side reckoned by many to be amongst the title contenders before the tournament, completing 88 per cent of them on the way to a 3-1 win.
The comparable figures for O’Neill’s men in the group defeat are 337 and 82, although it is perhaps worth noting that the Irish success rate dropped to below 50 per cent when they chose to go long. Glenn Whelan, as it happens, had Ireland’s highest success rate, with all but three of his 47 passes attempted coming off, while Robbie Brady managed just 22 of 31 (a 71 per cent strike rate).
The interesting thing about the figures for the opening games of this campaign is that Wales have, on the face of it, continued to play better football than Ireland, even though their results have not been nearly so good.
They do not tend to dominate possession – three of their four games so far have been at home, but they have averaged only fractionally more than 50 per cent (the equivalent figures for Ireland is 45 per cent) – but they continue to outpass their rivals by, on average, a little over 100 per game. Ireland’s numbers are adversely affected, as it happens, by their dismal figures in Serbia where they actually completed fewer than 100 passes (94) over the 90 minutes, but it might be worth remembering that it is shaping up to be very much the same starting line-up this evening as kicked off that night in Belgrade