Euro 2016 play-off: Republic should not be scared of reputations
Euro 2016 play-off first leg: Bosnia-H'govina v Rep of Ireland
- Stadion Bilino Polje, Zenica
- Friday, 13 November
- 19:45 GMT
- 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.
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|
|1998 World Cup||Belgium||L||2-3 (agg)|
|Euro 2000||Turkey||L||1-1 (agg) lost on away goals|
|2002 World Cup||Iran||W||2-1 (agg)|
|2010 World Cup||France||L||1-2 (agg AET)|
|Euro 2012||Estonia||W||5-1 (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.
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.
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
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
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.