O'Neill and Keane take average Ireland to Euro 2016
Managerial odd couple O'Neill and Keane lead average Ireland to Euro 2016
EURO 2016 PLAY-OFF, SECOND LEG
(Jonathan Walters 24-pen, 70)
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA 0
- Ireland win 3-1 on aggregate.
It has been six long years in the making, but luck finally appears to be smiling on the Irish again.
As scarves twirled and chants of "Ole, Ole, Ole" rang out of the Aviva Stadium and long into the Dublin night sky yesterday morning (Singapore time), Thierry Henry's infamous handball which denied the Republic of Ireland a place at the 2010 World Cup appeared a distant memory
The Irish had just beaten Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-0 to seal their place in the 2016 European Championship.
The valiant renditions of The Fields of Athenry as the Green Army exited Euro 2012 in its infancy will once again be a battle cry that will be sung with gusto in the boulevards of Paris and as far as the sea fronts of Marseille in seven months' time.
On a wing and a prayer, they have accomplished the impossible dream and secured a place in next summer's Euro 2016 finals.
It has not come easy.
Pitted against Germany and Poland in qualifying, a squad comprising of English Premier League underlings and Championship mainstays was given little, if any, hope of unseating a pillar of international football and the growing force of Poles.
Facing a Bosnia and Herzegovina side boasting stellar quality at both ends of the field in Chelsea's Asmir Begovic and Manchester City exile Edin Dzeko, the play-off battle was evenly poised.
Led by the odd couple of Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane, however, Ireland have rediscovered the characteristics which saw Jack Charlton's team's exploits etched into the nation's folklore.
It was the most unlikely managerial pairing.
Beyond similarly bruising tenures in charge at Sunderland, there was nothing that made O'Neill and Keane kindred spirits.
Somehow, the mild-mannered journeyman from Derry in Northern Ireland and his incendiary assistant conjured a winning formula without the aid of the stars from yesteryear.
The shadow of Saipan, where Keane's public fallout with manager Mick McCarthy derailed preparations for the 2002 World Cup, has hung over Ireland for more than a decade.
It was their best and worst of times.
More than 13 years later, the picture is distinctly different; Keane's transformation from upstart to unifier for his country has been a key component in O'Neill's success story as Ireland manager.
Fortune has belatedly played its part.
Where Henry's handball in 2009 went unnoticed by officials, an eagle-eyed Dutch referee, Bjorn Kuipers, penalised Ervin Zukanovic's infringement to allow Jonathan Walters to kick-start celebrations with a coolly taken penalty past former Stoke City teammate Begovic.
Fittingly, Walters' own underdog story aligned with that of his country.
The striker who was plying his trade in League Two, the fourth tier of English football, nine years ago, was further elevated to national hero status 20 minutes from time with a volley worthy of victory in its own right.
Should fates conspire during next month's Euro 2016 group stage draw to pit the two sides together, reigning champions Spain will encounter a far more robust Irish in France than the one they pummelled to elimination in Gdansk, Poland, at the last European Championship.
Though still nowhere near Vicente del Bosque's men in terms of skill and technical ability, Ireland's players will travel to France full of the belief and purpose that was conspicuous in its absence at the 2012 Euros jointly hosted in Poland and Ukraine.
Under O'Neill and Keane, there is potentially a new golden era beckoning for Irish football.
Making roy his No. 2 was controversial at the time... But the fA went with it and Irish football is the winner.
— Ireland’s second-highest goalscorer Nail Quinn praises manager O’Neill’s decision to make Keane his deputy
BY THE NUMBERS
4 goals Jon Walters has scored four times in his last five appearances for Ireland.
9 games Ireland are unbeaten at home in their last nine games. They have kept six clean sheets in the process.
1 goal Their 2-0 win over Bosnia is the first time Ireland have scored more than once at home in 2015.
3 times Ireland have qualified for the Euros for the third time. They also made it in 2012 and 1988.
Bosnians blame ref
Following their Euro 2016 play-off exit at the hands of the Republic of Ireland yesterday morning (Singapore time), Bosnia and Herzegovina slammed the performance of the match officials.
Martin O'Neill's team were given a contentious penalty in the 24th minute when Daryl Murphy's cross brushed the hand of defender Ervin Zukanovic.
Jon Walters scored the resultant penalty and added his second 20 minutes from time to seal Ireland's place in France.
But the Eastern European side's players and staff were critical of referee Bjorn Kuipers' role in the result.
On-loan Roma striker Edin Dzeko felt the Dutch official heavily favoured the home team.
He said: "We can't win a game where we don't play. In the end we did well, although the referee was 70-30 in favour of the Irish.
"I would never in my life have given the penalty they gave against us."
His teammate Haris Medunjanin agreed, suggesting there were no grounds for Ireland to be awarded the spot kick.
He said: "We had to be more efficient at home because we knew it would be difficult here.
"The Irish played aggressively, it was difficult. The penalty didn't exist, but there you go.
"We have to move on. We had a good chance, but we haven't achieved our goal."
Medunjanin's (photo) coach Mehmed Bazdarevic refused to discuss the penalty incident but opined that the referee "did not do his job properly".
The 55-year-old said: "I won't speak about that (the penalty), but it would have consequences.
"But I would like to say the referee did not do his job properly in this game.
"First of all it's very hard to speak about this.
"We know what we lost. The team that beat us played very well and had more chances.
"During the qualification it was very difficult for us. We had a few players injured and a few cards, but in the beginning we maybe did not have enough luck. In the end we did not have enough luck."
- Wire Services.