Nothing in life is certain beyond death, taxes and the guarantee that someone will be called a Nazi in the comments section of any Youtube video with more than five comments.
That being said the signs are looking very good for Ireland after they secured a 1-1 draw away to Bosnia & Herzegovina in Zenica on Friday night. Things were looking even better for Martin O’Neill’s men after Robbie Brady found his way through the fog to put Ireland a goal up with just eight minutes left on the clock. Only for Edin Dzeko to equalise within three minutes.
In the end Dzeko’s effort may have made little difference to the outcome of this play-off. At least that’s what the history books indicate.
Of the 13 two-leg play-offs for European Championships that have been played since 1999 and the 20 all-European play-offs for World Cups since 1997:
- Four out of five teams drew 1-1 away in the first leg and all went on to qualify
– Belgium drew 1-1 away to Ireland in 1997 (1998 World Cup), winning the 2nd leg 2-1 to qualify 3-2 on aggregate.
– Italy drew 1-1 away to Russia in 1997 (1998 World Cup), winning 1-0 in the second leg to qualify 2-1 on aggregate.
– Turkey drew 1-1 away to Ireland in 1999 (Euro 2000), drawing 0-0 at home to qualify on away goals.
– Germany drew 1-1 away to Ukraine in 2001 (2002 World Cup), winning 4-1 at home to qualify 5-2 on aggregate.
The only team to draw 1-1 away in the first leg and fail to qualify was Slovenia. In 2003 they held Croatia away only to lose 1-0 at home, ruining what would have otherwise been a water tight theory.
The key thing for Ireland was not to lose. Since 1999 only one side has lost the first leg of a European Championship play-off and managed to reverse matters in the second leg. Holland’s 1-0 loss to Scotland at Hampden Park was a shock, their 6-0 win back on home soil in the return leg was less so.
Ireland are8/13 to qualify against a Bosnia and Herzegovina team which dominated possession but lacked the razor-like penetration in attack of a team like Germany. The same reigning World Cup champions who Ireland beat 1-0 at the Aviva Stadium in the group stages.
A 0-0 draw at 6/1 would get the job done but not without the loss of every finger nail in the country. A won 1-0 at the same price of 6/1 wouldn’t exactly be jitter free either but it does seem the more likely of winning outcomes for Ireland.
O’Neill’s struggled to keep hold of the ball without the relentless work and intelligent running of Jonathan Walters up front. His return in the second leg could be key. If Shane Long can recover enough to take at least a place on the bench his pace will give the manager an attacking weapon which was absent in Zenica. And let us not forget Robbie Keane. You wouldn’t put it past Ireland’s record goal scorer to come on late to grab a little more glory in a green shirt while he still can.
Play-offs haven’t always been in Ireland’s favour but after a good result away the odds and the history books are leaning in their favour.