Ireland’s task, if they want to qualify for Euro 2020, is really quite simple on the face of it. In their two remaining games in Group D, they need to pick up a single win. Of course, simple doesn’t mean “easy”, because those two games are against Switzerland and Denmark. Even two draws is unlikely to be enough (there is an outside chance of it working out, but it realistically requires Switzerland to lose at home to Georgia), so Ireland arrive in Geneva tonight looking to somehow take three points off a side that reached the Nations League final stages.
The Swiss, for their part, will be hurting after a weekend defeat in Copenhagen and will know that a defeat here will leave them all but eliminated. When the teams faced off in Dublin last month, it was Vladimir Petkovic’s men who made most of the running, and took the lead with fifteen minutes to go before a late David McGoldrick equaliser. Mick McCarthy, Ireland manager for this tournament cycle only, has come to the job with a brief to make his side hard to beat. This he has managed, but with six goals from six games – where two of those games were against Gibraltar – they’re also finding it hard to beat anyone else.
Below, we look at the likely outcomes and try to get inside the respective managers’ tactical thinking – as well as offering tips on the best bets for this game.
Don’t expect a classic
There are various ways of watching live coverage of this match, but the best bet for fans of football may be to pull up a text commentary and use your imagination. We’re not saying that these sides are workmanlike, but Ireland play like a team that needs to file for planning permission before scoring a goal. Against a side that went toe-to-toe with Portugal in their last qualifying campaign and narrowly missed out, the Irish gameplan is likely to be conservative. The Swiss, for their part, aren’t exactly paragons of Total Football, and the high stakes here make it unlikely that they’ll open up in any real sense tonight.
In short, this game is not likely to be a “who-scores-last-wins” classic. It will be two teams trying to find a way through each other’s rigid defensive set-ups and the chances are that if one of them can find a goal somewhere, it will be the game’s only one. As William Hill are offering odds of 7/4 on there being fewer than 1.5 goals, we’d consider that to be a price worth taking. There’s every chance there won’t even be a goal; Ireland’s weekend meeting with Georgia ended 0-0 and the smothering Irish defence was one of the game’s few bright spots.
Ireland would take a draw, but might not get one
During the press conference ahead of this game, McCarthy expressed the sentiment that he would be more than happy to take a draw here. In fairness, there’s some logic to that attitude: if these sides split the points, then the Danes will need only to beat Gibraltar to ensure qualification. That would mean that on the final night of qualification, Denmark would come to Dublin not needing anything from the game, which would give Ireland a better shot at beating them. Of course, that involves thinking several steps ahead, and the first step is to get through this game without losing.
This game is legitimately tough to call. Ireland have shown that they can seriously underperform what is expected of them – as in the home game against Gibraltar, where they needed a goal deep in injury time to defeat the minnows 2-0. They have also shown, in their visit to Denmark and at home to the Swiss, an ability to fight their way to a decent result even after going behind late on. However, here the cards are very much in Switzerland’s favour, and we think the odds of 23/20 from Betway on Switzerland winning, with No on Both Teams To Score, offer a very attractive bet.
McCarthy to place trust in youth?
In Mick McCarthy’s first stint as Ireland manager, the Barnsley man could call upon the likes of Robbie Keane, Damien Duff, Shay Given and (for a while) Roy Keane among others. The current Irish squad is not as blessed with talent – not one of them has played even a single minute of Champions League football. McCarthy’s job this time, then, is to find a way of putting eleven players on the field who can eke out a result in tough circumstances – it’s a different challenge to that which he faced eighteen years ago when Ireland more than held their own in a World Cup qualifying group with Portugal and the Netherlands.
The biggest selection dilemma “Big Mick” faces this evening is whether to give Brighton’s 19-year-old centre-forward Aaron Connolly his first international start. Luton’s James Collins got the nod at the weekend and offers a more robust presence than the youngster – but Connolly’s pace and direct running may be ideal for the counter-attacking game Ireland are sure to attempt here. In his first Premier League start, the former Galway United trainee scored twice against Tottenham. Should he get the nod here, he’s 15/2 to get on the scoresheet with Unibet. Even though we don’t expect Ireland to score, the extremely long odds there make it hard not to consider a punt on the exciting youngster.
Bets of the Day
Switzerland win, NO Both Teams To Score (Betway, 23/20); Aaron Connolly to score any time (Unibet, 15/2); Fewer than 1.5 goals, (William Hill, 7/4)