Friday night taught us one thing – the luck taken away from the Irish back in 2009 has come back with a vengeance. Throw in one other trouncing, a precarious two goal lead and a goal-less draw and you’ve got the first leg’s in a nutshell. There’s still plenty at stake in tonight’s clashes though.
The most intriguing battle takes place at Lisbon’s Estadio da Luz and presents the real possibility that a tournament will go by without the talent of Cristiano Ronaldo on display. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Portugal played out a goal-less encounter in Zenica and an early Bosnian goal could shake this tie to its foundations. They’ve never qualified for a major tournament and 2100GMT tonight represents their best opportunity to date. Of the four ties this is the one to watch. It might not be on British TV. Isn’t that what the Internet was invented for?
At the halfway point of Friday’s European Championship qualifier between Estonia and Ireland, the fattest of fat ladies was clearing her throat ready for a bellow. Little did she know that by full time she’d have sang the full number as well as a whole album’s worth of material such was Ireland’s dominant performance in a 4-0 win. Tonight’s clash at the Aviva Stadium will merely confirm their passage into the tournament and this is even amongst various opinions that they may manage to eff it up. One simple answer to that: not going to happen.
Croatia’s tie with Turkey is another that looks to be all but a dead-rubber after the first leg. As was shown the last time these two met before Friday: anything is possible and complacency from the home side could give us something to behold. 3-0 isn’t unassailable and the outcome will at least prove one thing: whether Guus Hiddink can again perform football’s equivalent of walking on water. If he turns up in a sheet and with a halo then we’re lumping it all on Turkey. The reality is that a Croatian win by the odd goal will be the outcome.
If you’re looking for a hint of an unlikely upset Podgorica is the place to find it. Montenegro trail by two goals going into their home leg against the Czech Republic and it’s not the redundant clash that many are predicting. The tiny territory held England twice in qualifying and is formidable at home. Two early goals and the Czechs will be wobbling against a strike force composed of the impressive Italian-based pairing of Mirko Vucinic and Stefan Jovetic. The other end is where the home side need watch out and Czech nationals will disappointed if they come away not scoring. If there’s going to be an upset it’ll be here.
Now just for the Irish to be drawn alongside the French in the group stage draw on December 2nd.