While there are no Germanys, no Spains and no Frances in Group D, the Republic of Ireland’s path to Russia 2018 is laced with potential pitfalls at every turn. A home win against Georgia is simply imperative for the Emerald Isle.
After opening with a hard-fought 2-2 draw versus tricky Serbia, Ireland must also face Austria and Wales, rendering at least six of their 10 qualifying games devilishly tough.
And after their struggles against the Georgians in qualifying for Euro 2016, Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane can only look to the two Moldova fixtures with any sort of ease.
Two years ago a last-minute Aiden McGeady goal was required to secure victory for Ireland in Tbilisi, while only a Jonathan Walters strike was enough to secure three vital points in Dublin a year later.
Of further concern for tonight’s hosts, is that Georgia gave Austria a hard time a month ago, only going down 2-1, plus they beat Spain 1-0 in a friendly back in June.
All this goes a long way to explaining why, Ireland, despite being ranked 106 places higher than their opponents, are no shorter than 10/21.
And Ireland’s cause has been hampered further by the withdrawal of seven players this week, including Darryl Murphy, Keiren Westwood, Kevin Doyle and Aiden McGeady.
Aberdeen’s Adam Rooney is one of the late call-ups, and O’Neill will be hoping to profilic Ladbrokes Premiership hitman can carry his form into international duty.
Rooney is 9/2 to score first at the Aviva Stadium, and thankfully the Boys in Green can still call upon Shane Long and Jon Walters – 10/3 and 4/1 first goalscorers respectively.
This really is a match Ireland must win if they’re to have any hope of reaching a first World Cup finals since 2002.
With Austria and Wales also in contention, one side won’t even be looking at a play-off route.
O’Neill and Keane will know full well that any dropped points here will be a major blow, but we all know how the Boys in Green can handle pressure. We all remember that win over Germany, don’t we?
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