Wales and Ireland face World Cup shootout
Wales manager Chris Coleman says his side will embrace the pressure of Monday’s knife-edge World Cup qualification shootout against the Republic of Ireland in Cardiff.
Victory for either team will guarantee them a play-off berth at their opponents’ expense and could yield an automatic qualifying spot if Group D leaders Serbia falter in their last game at home to Georgia.
For Wales, a draw at Cardiff City Stadium would be enough to finish above Ireland in the table, but Coleman says his players will only be thinking of victory.
“We’re on dangerous ground if we go in with a game plan of trying to soak the pressure up for 90 minutes,” said Coleman, who will be without his attacking talisman Gareth Bale due to injury.
“We are too good to do that. We’ll go and attack, go and score goals. We have to do that — it’s our strength.
“A point may be OK, but we’ll go for three points. That’s the way it’s set up.
“I think it will be a sensational atmosphere in Cardiff and these are the games you want to be involved in.
“We always seem to play other countries who are involved and celebrating, but we welcome the pressure.”
Celtic cousins separated by the Irish Sea, Wales and Ireland are more accustomed to facing off on the rugby pitch and have never previously tackled each other in a football match of such magnitude.
Surprise semi-finalists at Euro 2016, Wales have not played at a World Cup since 1958 and could finish a qualifying campaign unbeaten for the first time in their history.
A damaging run of five successive draws appeared to have nixed their qualification hopes, but consecutive wins — and clean sheets — against Austria, Moldova and Georgia have got them back on track.
‘Let’s go for it’
In Bale’s absence, Derby County forward Tom Lawrence scored a fine first international goal to give Wales a 1-0 win away to Georgia on Friday.
A draw against Ireland should allow Wales to claim one of the eight play-off spots in the European section and if they win and Serbia fail to beat Georgia, Coleman’s men will go to Russia next year as group winners.
After successive participations at the European Championship, Martin O’Neill’s Ireland are attempting to reach a first World Cup since 2002.
Ranked 34th in the world by FIFA, they trail Wales by 21 places, but have not lost against them in seven encounters, stretching back to a 1-0 defeat in a friendly in Dublin in February 1992.
O’Neill will welcome back wingers Robbie Brady and James McClean after the pair missed Friday’s 2-0 win over Moldova through suspension.
While Wales are without Bale, O’Neill believes the absence of right-back Seamus Coleman — who suffered a ghastly double leg break against Wales in March’s 0-0 draw at the Aviva Stadium — is “as big a loss to us”.
Wales have not lost at home in a competitive international since a 3-0 defeat by Serbia in September 2013, but O’Neill believes his side have the beating of them.
“I think we can win the match,” he said.
“I felt it was always going to be like this. When we get off to a decent start, the mindset changes a little bit in terms of points.
“But if you had said to me right at the beginning when the group was drawn that we’d have to go to Wales and win — and we were down as fourth seeds — I would have taken it. So let’s go for it.”
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