Euro 2016 play-off: Republic should not be scared of reputations

Match of the Day

Euro 2016 play-off first leg: Bosnia-H'govina v Rep of Ireland

Venue:
Stadion Bilino Polje, Zenica
Date:
Friday, 13 November
Kick-off:
19:45 GMT
Coverage:
Updates on BBC Radio 5 live and the BBC Sport Website

I have plenty of experience of how tight and tense play-off matches for major finals can be, and I am not expecting anything different when the Republic of Ireland play Bosnia-Herzegovina for a place at Euro 2016.

Martin O'Neill's side struggled for goals in qualifying - after beating Georgia 2-1 in their first match in Group D, Gibraltar were the only team against whom they scored more than once in the same game - but that would not be a concern for me if I were in the squad for these matches.

When I look back at my international career with the Republic over the past 20 years or so, even when we were on good form and playing well, we would rarely go out and dominate teams.

Kevin Kilbane (left) appeals in vain over Thierry Henry's handball that led to William Gallas (centre) scoring the decisive extra-time goal in France's win over the Republic of Ireland in the play-off for the 2010 World Cup
Kilbane played for the Republic of Ireland between 1997 and 2011. He was in their squad when they lost to Belgium in their play-off for the 1998 World Cup and played in three more play-offs - defeat by Turkey in 1999, victory over Iran in 2001 and their controversial elimination from the 2010 World Cup, when he was the nearest player to William Gallas as he scored France's decisive extra-time goal and appealed in vain over Thierry Henry's handball in the build-up

We would hardly ever put more than two goals past anyone unless it was one of the lesser nations and, against the stronger teams, the games were always close.

That is still the reality of international football for the Republic at the level we are at - to get results against the top sides we have to stay strong defensively, keep ourselves in the game and then take our chances.

It will be the same against Bosnia. O'Neill has had the core of his team decimated by injuries and suspensions but a draw or even a narrow defeat on Friday would keep the tie alive for Monday's second leg in Dublin, when he will hopefully have some key players back.

Republic of Ireland play-off record
TournamentOpponentsOutcomeScore
Euro 96NetherlandsL0-2
1998 World CupBelgiumL2-3 (agg)
Euro 2000TurkeyL1-1 (agg) lost on away goals
2002 World CupIranW2-1 (agg)
2010 World CupFranceL1-2 (agg AET)
Euro 2012EstoniaW5-1 (agg)

'Reputations never scared me'

When you look through Bosnia's squad, it is easy to find yourself looking at the clubs they play for, like Lazio and Roma, before thinking about the players themselves and the overall strength of the team.

Who do Bosnia-Herzegovina play for?
Eight of Bosnia's likely starting XI on Friday play for top-flight clubs in England, Germany or Italy. The exceptions are Sejad Salihovic, who plays in China for Guizhou, Anel Hadzic at Austrian club Sturm Graz and right-back Mensur Mujdza who plays in Bundesliga 2 for Freiburg. Everton midfielder Muhamed Besic is suspended but likely to return for the second leg on Monday

That certainly seems to have happened with some Republic fans I have spoken to, who do not seem too confident about our chances when they compare both likely starting line-ups.

It is true that Bosnia have some talented players but I played against a lot of big names in my international career and I never let their reputations scare me.

I always told myself they were no better me. Even if they played for a bigger club than me, they just had different opportunities that had come their way, and I knew who they played for would not have any bearing on how I got on against them once the game started.

Who do the Republic of Ireland play for?
Kilbane expects the Republic of Ireland to line up in a 4-1-2-3 formation with Stoke's Glenn Whelan sitting deeper than James McCarthy of Everton and Derby's Jeff Hendrick, who will operate to his left and right. Eight of their likely starters play in the Premier League but only six of them have started more than half their team's league games this season - Aston Villa defender Ciaran Clark has played six times and West Ham goalkeeper Darren Randolph has made three starts. Three more Premier League players - John O'Shea (Sunderland), Jon Walters (Stoke) and Shane Long (Southampton) - could return for Monday's second leg but Long has only made one league start this season.

Hopefully the Republic players think the same way. They need to remember that, as a unit, they are capable of winning this tie.

That is exactly what happened against Germany in qualifying, and beating the world champions should give them the belief that they can beat Bosnia too.

Possible starting XIs for first leg

Bosnia-Herzegovina (4-3-3): Begovic (Chelsea); Mujdza (Freiburg), Spahic (Hamburg), Sunjic (Stuttgart), Zukanovic (Sampdoria); Pjanic (Roma), Hadzic (Sturm Graz), Sahilovic (Guizhou); Lulic (Lazio), Ibisevic (Hertha Berlin), Dzeko (Roma)

Republic of Ireland (4-1-2-3): Randolph (West Ham; Coleman (Everton), Keogh (Derby), Clark (Aston Villa), Brady (Norwich); Whelan (Stoke); McCarthy (Everton), Hendrick (Derby); McClean (West Brom), Murphy (Ipswich), Hoolahan (Norwich)

O'Shea and Walters can make the difference

Republic of Ireland captain John O'Shea
John O'Shea is the Republic of Ireland's captain and, behind Robbie Keane, is the most experienced player in their squad for the play-off, winning 108 caps since 2001

Stoke forward Jon Walters, who is suspended for the first leg, has probably been the Republic's best player during the qualifying campaign. He has definitely been their most consistent performer.

But it is Sunderland centre-half John O'Shea who I think will be missed the most in Zenica, simply because he usually organises the team and helps it keep its shape.

O'Shea is not just the captain of the side, he is very much its voice on the pitch and my biggest worry for the first leg is how much experience we are lacking, with goalkeeper Shay Given also out injured.

I am still hopeful O'Shea will be fit to play in the second leg once he has served his suspension and, along with Walters and Shane Long, could return to tip the tie in the Republic's balance.

Playing the second leg at home is an advantage anyway, but it would be even more of a boost knowing that some key players will be back, so the main aim from the first leg has to be just to stay in the tie.

Pjanic is the player the Republic need to stop

Miralem Pjanic celebrates after scoring against Bayer Leverkusen
Miralem Pjanic has been involved in 13 of Roma's 37 goals in Serie A and the Champions League this season

I understand why Edin Dzeko is talked about as Bosnia's main threat, because he scored most of their goals in qualifying.

But it is Dzeko's Roma team-mate Miralem Pjanic who I see as their real danger man. He is one of the best players in Europe and he is in terrific form - he has seven goals and six assists already for his club this season.

Pjanic will cause problems with his free-kicks when he is near enough to goal but his passing ability means he is good enough to dictate the game in open play too.

He is the player the Republic need to stop in this tie, and I would imagine Glenn Whelan will be asked to do it.

That battle could be crucial but I see the Republic having opportunities in Zenica too.

Bosnia centre-half Emir Spahic is an accomplished footballer but he is 35 now and, if we can get Shane Long fit for the second game in Dublin, his pace will cause him problems at the back when we look to break.

I am sure manager Martin O'Neill will know all about that, and look to target Bosnia's other little weaknesses from an organisational point of view.

The key to a good result for the Republic could be how well they defend Bosnia's set-plays, because I think we will get chances from dead balls too - and they could even decide who makes it to France.

Kevin Kilbane was speaking to BBC Sport's Chris Bevan.

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