With just one point separating the two, the clash between the 2nd and 3rd placed Wales and Ireland at Cardiff stadium on Monday will be a real turning point for both as far as their fortunes in the Group D cluster goes. For the Welsh, the anxiety over Real Madrid star Gareth Bale’s injury looms large over the Cardiff clash. Bale’s absence in Saturday’s La Liga clash against Espanyol sparked off alarm bells in the Welsh camp, but Real coach Zidane, was quick to allay such fears saying that the 29-year old forward’s muscle strain was minor and that he would be very much be available for the crunch match against Ireland.
Wales manager, Chris Coleman, has managed a coup of sorts by roping in 17-year old Liverpool forward, Ben Woodburn, who was a star in England’s U20 Toulon Tournament win. Woodburn finds himself in Coleman’s squad by virtue of having Welsh grandparents. Sheffield United midfielder, David Brooks, 20, is another that Coleman has managed to snare from England. Besides these, there will be the usual suspects Ashley Williams (Everton) who is likely to skipper Wales and taken up key defensive responsibilities along with Ben Davies (Tottenham), Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal) and Joe Allen (Stoke City) in the mid-field and Gareth Bale, Sam Vokes (Burnley) and Ben Woodburn providing the scoring power upfront.
Meanwhile, Republic of Ireland coach Martin O’Neill has gone in for uncapped players like Sean Maguire (Preston North End), Aiden O’Brien ( Millwall ) and Scott Hogan (Aston Villa) all of whom are strikers, but whether they will find their way into the starting XI at Cardiff is another matter. O’Neill will essentially look to Shane Long of Southampton for goals at Cardiff as the other 5 forwards of the squad for the Welsh clash just have one goal between them in international outings. Shane Long has 17 from his 76 international caps.
Wales are yet to lose a match from their 8 games in the Group D cluster so far, but have a spate of draws (5 in all) including a 0-0 played out in Dublin in March this year against their October 9 rivals. Wales have managed impressive performances in their last three games, drawing 1-1 against Serbia away in Belgrade, winning 1-0 against Austria at Cardiff and followed it up with a 0-2 away win against Moldova.
The Irish haven’t registered a win since their impressive 0-1 victory at the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna against Austria in November 2016. Following that, they have drawn three and lost one of their 4 encounters, leaving them a point behind Wales’s 14 and making Monday’s Cardiff clash a crunch match for them.
Wales are definitely the stronger team on paper and look set to prevail at Cardiff on Monday, although a hard-fought draw could well be on the cards. The home team stand to benefit from either of the results.
Free Football Tip: Wales to Win, Best Odds 1/1 @ Unibet
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