EUROPE: World Cup – Qualification
Time: 8:45 PM
Venue: Aviva Stadium (Dublin)
Poor form ended Ireland’s prospects of reaching their first World Cup (WC) since 2002 some time ago, but recently they’ve experienced significant improvement. Whilst a four-match unbeaten streak may not sound so spectacular (W2, D2), it represents their best run of form under manager Stephen Kenny, directly after a spell of one win in 15 games.
Though recent times have been bleak for Ireland, they are never easy to beat at the Aviva Stadium. In fact, they’ve lost just twice in 14 games on home soil, but Portugal will be their toughest test here in some time. On current form, the visitors will think nothing of the fact that November 2017 was the last time any team put 2+ goals past Ireland on their own turf.
Portugal may have experienced recent success when claiming the Euro 2016 title, but their appearance in next year’s WC is still not yet a certainty. A win will see them leapfrog Serbia into first place and put them in prime position to qualify, especially as those two soon meet in what will be the deciding match for who gets top spot in their WC qualification group.
One thing this squad shouldn’t lack is belief, given their five-game winning run, although the kings of Euro 2016 have not won six in succession since March 2010. They tend to come good as visitors though, as only Russia and Switzerland have defeated them on WC qualification travels since the beginning of their quest to reach the 2002 World Cup.
Players to watch: Ireland’s Callum Robinson may only have six international goals, but five of them came in their last two games, including a hat-trick vs Qatar. Portugal striker and all-time men’s international record goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo has netted three of his last six national team goals after the 85th minute.
·Ireland’s form in last 5 matches: WWDDL.
·Portugal’s form in last 5 matches: WWWWW
PREDICTION: Away Win