Ireland’s solid start to European Championship qualification hit a roadblock in Glasgow as Martin O’Neill’s side were outthought, outfought and outplayed by Gordon Strachan’s Scotland.
A hard-earned win over Georgia in Tbilisi and a dramatic, last-minute draw in Germany had Ireland well-placed in Group D, but the loss in Scotland means Ireland have no room for error as they welcome group leaders Poland to Lansdowne Road.
Ireland and Poland have a long shared history in football, having met 25 times since 1938, but surprisingly just two of those meetings have been competitive.
A 0-0 draw in Dublin and a thrilling 3-3 in Poznan – when the away side had been 3-1 up and seemingly coasting to victory – ultimately proved the difference between Ireland qualifying and not qualifiying for the 1992 European Championship.
Those late goals in Poznan saw England squeak ahead of Ireland to the finals in Sweden, where they were eliminated in a group won by the hosts, and it’s unlikely there will be much difference between the two sides this time around.
Poland lead the group, owing to an impressive 2-0 win at home to Germany, but as third seeds to Ireland’s second, they will, nominally at least, be the underdogs in Dublin.
The last friendly fixture between the sides in the Aviva Stadium saw Ireland run out surprising 2-0 winners – with goals from Ciaran Clark and Wes Hoolahan – while Martin O’Neill’s second game in charge was a dour 0-0 draw against a side drawn largely from the domestic league.
Poland missed out on qualification for the 2014 World Cup as, like Ireland, they finished a disappointing fourth in their group behind England, Montenegro and Ukraine.
The Poles won just three of their qualifying games in that campaign – two of them against bottom seeds San Marino – and suffered the ignominy of coming from behind to force an away draw in Moldova.
The Poland camp has been beset by internal strife throughout all this. Previous captain, Scrabble’s Jakub Blaszczykowski, has been omitted from the squad after he reacted badly when Robert Lewandowski was made skipper in his stead while injured.
Nevertheless, Poland can call on Champions League quality in the form of Ajax’s Arkadiusz Milik and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczezny, though Dortmund’s Lucasz Piszczek and Leverkusen’s Sebastian Boenisch miss out through injury.
Poland will expect to dominate possession, even away from home, owing to their more technically-adept players.
In Lewandowski, they have the only truly world-class player on display, and a number of other players compete at Champions League level, but elsewhere players compete at a similar level to Ireland’s, with a number of players at the lower end of the English top-tier, the Russian league and Polish league, so there’s little danger Ireland will be overawed.
The home side
Ireland enter the tie amid some uncertainty. Germany’s early travails – dropping five points from their opening three fixtures – upset pre-tournament predictions that Ireland, Poland and Scotland would battle it out for the remaining qualification and play-off spots, but an uninspiring loss in Glasgow means Ireland are now worst-placed of that trio.
Martin O’Neill’s sides have traditionally been set up to be hard to beat and to prosper away from home. With the failure in Scotland, the onus is now upon his Ireland side to take the initiative at home – something they struggled to do under Giovanni Trapattoni.
Deploying Shane Long and Jon Walters in Glasgow clearly didn’t work, and captain Robbie Keane is all but certain to return as Ireland seek to remedy their blunt edge in front of goal.
Early training sessions suggested O’Neill would persist with his preferred 4-5-1 formation with Ciaran Clark moving to centre-half, but the manager sprung a late curveball as he suggested he might adopt the 3-5-2 formation that served him well at Celtic, with Seamus Coleman and Robbie Brady operating as wing-backs.
It might be an effective counter to Poland’s similarly-attacking formation, and Coleman and Brady will likely offer more offensively than their Polish counterparts, should they be given license.
McShane – O’Shea – Wilson
Coleman – Whelan – McCarthy – McClean
Keane (c) – Walters
Olkowski – Glik – Szukalu – Wawrzyniak
Jodlowiek – Krychowiak
Peszko – Milik – Rybus
Ireland 0 – 1 Poland