Republic of Ireland 2-0 Bosnia: Jonathan Walters blasts Irish into Euro 2016 finals
The Republic wins 3-1 aggregate to join Northern Ireland in France
Jonathan Walters blasted the Republic of Ireland into the finals of Euro 2016 as his double ended Bosnia-Herzegovina's hopes of a trip to France next summer.
Six years to the week after Irish hearts were broken by the unseen Thierry Henry handball which cost them a place at the 2010 World Cup finals, the Republic benefited from an equally suspect decision against unfortunate defender Ervin Zukanovic which allowed Walters to open the scoring from the spot.
But the game remained in the balance until the Stoke frontman dispatched a volley past former team-mate Asmir Begovic 20 minutes from time to wrap up a 2-0 win on the night and a 3-1 aggregate victory.
Ireland will take part in a second successive European finals tournament having qualified via the play-offs, an achievement which will extend manager Martin O'Neill's existing contract and surely make the agreement of a longer-term deal which is understood to be on the table a formality.
O'Neill was always likely to restore Walters to his starting line-up after suspension, but not risk either John O'Shea or Shane Long from the start after their battles for fitness, and that was the only change in personnel as full-back Stephen Ward made way from the XI which started in Zenica.
However, it was his decision to employ Robbie Brady at left-back rather than in the midfield role he occupied in Bosnia which was to pay dividends before the break.
Brady's attacking instincts and pace helped to limit the influence of winger Edin Visca, who had led the Republic a merry dance at the Bilino Polje Stadium, although he was wasteful from a series of set-pieces in promising areas from which he too often managed to find only the first defender.
Where Ireland had contained in Zenica, they set out looking to attack on home soil with Begovic blocking one Brady cross with his legs and Zukanovic heading another away as the home side prospered down the left.
However, O'Neill's men were handed a stroke of good fortune when Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers ruled that Zukanovic had handled Daryl Murphy's cross to the defender's horror and, it must be said, the surprise of most of those present.
But Walters was not about to pass up the opportunity, sending former Stoke team-mate Begovic the wrong way to give the Irish a 24th-minute lead.
Bosnia responded in positive fashion and Edin Dzeko drilled a low effort into the side-netting two minutes later and midfielder Haris Medunjanin might have done better 13 minutes before the break when he skied his shot from Dzeko's knock-down.
Mehmed Bazdarevic made a change at the break when he replaced midfielder Edin Cocalic with the more attack-minded Muhamed Besic, and Ireland found themselves under genuine pressure as the second half unfolded.
Medunjanin shot straight at Randolph from distance and Dzeko unwittingly blocked a Visca effort on its way towards goal before defender Ciaran Clark was relieved to see his header from a curling Medunjanin free-kick only just clear his own crossbar.
Senad Lulic miskicked in front of goal after Visca had escaped Brady's attentions with 54 minutes gone, and O'Neill moved to arrest the slump by replacing Wes Hoolahan and Murphy with James McClean and Long.
Play moved swiftly from end to end, but Bosnia were looking the more threatening and Miralem Pjanic saw a 60th-minute snapshot blocked at source after Medunjanin had picked him out with a clever free-kick.
But the Republic extended their lead with 20 minutes remaining when, after he had been felled agriculturally by defender Emir Spahic, Walters was on hand to volley home from beyond the far post after Ognjen Vranjes could only help on Brady's swinging free-kick.
Substitute Vedad Ibisevic rattled the bar with a flying injury-time volley, but Ireland had done enough.
Jonathan Walters salutes 'heroic' Republic
Two-goal hero Jonathan Walters paid tribute to his fellow players after the Republic of Ireland qualified for Euro 2016 with a 2-0 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina in Dublin to secure a 3-1 aggregate play-off victory.
Walters scored a first-half penalty and put the seal on qualification with a volley after the break and he was quick to praise the team effort.
The Stoke striker told Sky Sports 1: "The whole team on the pitch are heroes. We got there in the end, we did it the hard way, but we got there.
"You've got to take it in because these moments don't come round often in a career."
Asked about the contribution of manager Martin O'Neill and assistant Roy Keane, Walters said: "They've been excellent through the whole campaign."
Derby defender Richard Keogh said: "It's an unbelievable feeling. We played really well. We got the (first) goal and we defended really well.
"For me to play for my country means the world to me. I've stepped up to the plate. I'm going to enjoy it."
West Ham goalkeeper Darren Randolph has not been first-choice goalkeeper throughout the qualifying campaign, but said he would savour the moment after helping his country make it to France.
"It's unbelievable. We're through and that's all that matters," he said.
- DARREN RANDOLPH - An assured display behind a largely well-organised defence and deserved his slice of good fortune when substitute Vedad Ibisevic's injury-time volley came back off the bar - 7 (out of 10)
- SEAMUS COLEMAN - Calm throughout on a night when defensive solidity rather than attacking prowess was required of him - 7
- RICHARD KEOGH - Turned in another solid display at the heart of a rearguard which simply refused to be beaten - 7
- CIARAN CLARK - Growing in stature with every international appearance and more than looked the part once again - 7
- ROBBIE BRADY - Carried to threat to Bosnia-Herzegovina from the off and had a hand in the second goal, but was less than effective from the set-pieces with which he was presented - 6
- GLENN WHELAN - Led by example on a night when tenacity and industry were richly rewarded - 7
- JAMES McCARTHY - Robust in the middle of the field, where he made a series of timely interventions to break up dangerous Bosnia attacks - 7
- JEFF HENDRICK - Another fine international appearance from the Derby midfielder, who is rapidly establishing himself as a regular - 8
- WES HOOLAHAN - Struggled to force his way into the game and departed prematurely as O'Neill introduced fresh legs - 6
- JONATHAN WALTERS - Used his power and energy to good effect and was clinical when presented with his chances - 9
- DARYL MURPHY - Battled manfully in the lone striking role and played the key role in the penalty - 7
- JAMES McCLEAN (for Hoolahan, 55) - Picked up a silly booking, but worked hard to help Ireland see out the game - 6
- SHANE LONG (for Murphy, 55) - Might have added a third goal after breaking three, but his lack of recent football caught up with him - 6
- JOHN O'SHEA (for Whelan, 90) - Played his part in repelling a late flurry after being introduced as a last-minute replacement - 6
Fans prepare for summer in France after Ireland reaching Euro finals
Ecstatic Irish football fans are turning their heads to re-run a Euro Championships exodus next June, unbowed by the threat of terrorism at the tournament in France.
In the heaving bars around Dublin's Aviva stadium an air of nervous tension gave way to excited plans to relive the highs and lows of a fortnight in a campervan.
Mickey Lavelle, from Donagh in Co Fermanagh, sourced tickets for the play-off with Bosnia in Belfast and through a supporters' club in London.
But the seasoned traveller to Celtic away games revealed security at next June's tournament would not be far from fans' minds in light of the weekend's atrocities in Paris.
"There's a bit of concern in respect of that before going out, it's something you have to be mindful of but it's not putting us off travelling," he said.
"It's something fans are aware of.
"To be fair, we've our camper booked and out of a group of ten there's only one person who said they would not go but the vast majority will tell you it won't put them off."
On the approaches to the old Lansdowne, security concerns were evident with a slightly higher than normal garda presence in and around the stadium.
Inside, a minute's silence was held before kick-off, but disappointingly it was not well observed by a small minority who appeared to be among the away fans.
It is only the third time in the Republic's past that qualification for the Euros has been secured with the historic night in the hothouse of the Aviva a traditionally poor play-off record was turned on its head.
Five of seven previous attempts at making major finals via the same route ended in heartache with the most notorious happening when Thierry Henry used his hand to score in the Stade de France in 2010.
Diarmuid O'Brien, secretary of the Inishowen Football League and a positive thinking veteran of more than 25 Ireland away trips, was looking forward to dusting off his passport.
"We have never had any great bother with security at any matches... I don't think it would be high on our list," he said.
Mr O'Brien, who also coaches teams in the north-west, almost nailed it with his prediction of a 1-0 win and Jon Walters to score with his head.
He said the threat of terrorism in the aftermath of the bloodshed in Paris will play on minds but would not dictate fans' attitudes.
"It definitely would not temper our enthusiasm," he said.
"I don't think it enters the equation for Irish fans. They want good craic, they're pretty carefree and they are going for a good time.
"I don't think anything is going to prevent them travelling."
Father of two Declan Molloy, 40, a computer engineer from Kimmage in Dublin, has his plans for June made either way.
"I had my holidays all worked out to make the trip next June, but if I'm honest I'm thinking twice about it now," he said.
"I know we shouldn't be put off, that it plays into the hands of those behind the attacks, but I have to think of my wife and family too, and I know my wife would be worried.
"I'll be really gutted if I miss it, I love France anyway and was really looking forward to cheering on my own Ireland in one of my favourite countries.
"If I can't go I'll have to do with a week in the caravan in Donegal. I'll pack some French wine."
Pre-match talking points
We look at some of the talking points as the Republic attempt to convert their 1-1 Euro 2016 play-off draw with Bosnia-Herzegovina into a ticket for France in the return fixture in Dublin on Monday evening.
WILL O'NEILL THROW CAUTION TO THE WIND?
In a word, no. Sitting in a packed press conference room at the Bilino Polje Stadium in the immediate aftermath of Friday night's draw in Zenica, O'Neill admitted he did not believe his team would be best served by trying to play out a 0-0 stalemate to secure their passage courtesy of the away goals rule.
While that is a long way from signalling an all-out assault, there is little doubt that Ireland will be more progressive at the Aviva Stadium as they look for the goal - or goals - to build a decisive advantage.
HAS THE CAVALRY ARRIVED JUST IN TIME?
The Republic ran out in Bosnia without four men - Shay Given, John O'Shea, Jonathan Walters and Shane Long - who might conceivably have started the game but for suspension and injury.
Given's knee surgery means he will not be involved in Dublin, but Walters has completed his one-match ban and O'Shea and Long returned to training on Sunday morning as they continued a race against the clock to recover from hamstring and foot injuries respectively.
Ciaran Clark and Richard Keogh performed admirably at the heart of O'Neill's defence in Zenica, but Long's power and pace in attack could prove key if he makes it.
IS THIS A NIGHT FOR WES HOOLAHAN TO WORK HIS MAGIC?
Hoolahan's invention is one of the more attractive strings to O'Neill's bow, but he needs to be employed in the right circumstances. Ireland spent much of Friday's game on the back foot, stretching the gap between midfield and lone striker Daryl Murphy and as a consequence, Hoolahan was largely unable to get himself into the game and departed after an hour.
However, if they look to take on the Bosnians, his creativity could prove invaluable.
WHAT ABOUT THE THREAT POSED BY BOSNIA?
Edin Dzeko's quality is in little doubt, although he had a quiet evening in Zenica until he was handed the chance to level with five minutes remaining, while the talented Miralem Pjanic was also less influential than Ireland might have expected.
However, while O'Neill knows there could be more to come from both men, it was winger Edin Visca who tormented the Republic down their left-hand side and unless they can find a way to shackle him, it could be a long night.
WHERE WILL THE GOALS COME FROM?
Other than against minnows Gibraltar, goals have been at a premium during the campaign with Ireland managing just eight in their remaining eight group games before Brady's effort in Bosnia and scoring more than once in only their 2-1 opening day win in Georgia. Skipper Robbie Keane leads the way with five - all of them against Gibraltar - while Walters and Long have three each.
Keane needs just one more goal to match Gerd Muller's haul of 68 international goals, and there could be no better time to do so, although any contribution from the 35-year-old is likely to come from the bench.
Belfast Telegraph Digital