Chris Coleman expects a physical game against the Republic of Ireland but is adamant that the bitter fall-out from the goalless draw in Dublin in March, when Seamus Coleman suffered a broken leg following a reckless challenge from Neil Taylor, will not affect Wales’s approach to Monday’s pivotal World Cup qualifier.
With Wales and Ireland both in with a chance of qualifying for the finals automatically after Serbia lost against Austria on Friday, the stakes could not be higher for what promises to be a highly charged occasion. Wales are second in Group D, one point ahead of Ireland, and the fractious nature of their meeting at the Aviva Stadium adds to the tension around what is in effect a winner-takes-all encounter.
Taylor was sent off for his wild tackle in Dublin and Ireland felt that Gareth Bale was also fortunate to escape a red card in a game short of quality but high on incident. Coleman was forced to defend his players in a spiky press conference that strayed into strange territory at times and prompted the Wales manager to say at one stage: “Your boys weren’t coming off with halos on their heads.”
For Coleman, however, the tempestuous nature of that match seven months ago belongs to the past. The Wales manager said that everyone in his squad was upset by what happened to the Ireland captain, but he also made it clear that he had no intention of bringing up the incident with his players during their preparation for the match.
“After the game in Dublin, Neil Taylor was absolutely devastated, as we all were,” the Wales manager said. “Seamus Coleman’s such a good player and you never want to see that happen. But what happened afterwards in terms of the media and the press conference, I can’t control that. If they [the Irish press] want to ask those type of questions that’s up to them.
“All I can control is my own group, the players and my staff – that’s what I concentrate on and that’s what we’ll do in this game. There won’t be any mention of the unfortunate incident, we’re just going to get on with our game-plan and make sure we’re 100% focused on doing what we’re good at.
“It’s the last game of the campaign, all or nothing for both teams. So even without the unfortunate incident in Dublin with Tayls and Seamus, this was always going to be a game where there will be two teams locking horns. There will be lots of contact in the game, it will be physical, with good players there as well. There will be chances at either end and there won’t be much in it.”
While a point could be enough for Wales to secure a play-off place, the Republic need to win. That Wales have lost once in 21 qualifiers and not suffered a defeat on home soil in a competitive match for more than four years suggests the odds are stacked heavily in their favour, yet Coleman is taking nothing for granted and anticipates “a hell of a game”.
“We’ve got to make sure we continue on the same path and we have the same hunger and desire as we’ve always had,” he said. “There’s no excuse, saying: ‘But haven’t we done so well, we’re ranked here, we’ve been to a semi-final, so it’s OK.’ It’s not OK. It can never be OK.
“Every game we go into, we look at it as our last one and make the most of it. That’s down to the players’ mentality as well. If they don’t buy into it, I’m dead in the water anyway. But they’ve been great.”
Bale remains sidelined with the calf injury that ruled him out of Friday’s gritty 1-0 victory in Georgia – the first time Wales have won a game without him for four years – but the Real Madrid forward will be contributing in Cardiff in another way.
“Gareth will be there. James Collins will be there, I imagine Jazz Richards will be, too – that’s ‘Together Stronger’,” said Coleman, referring to the national team’s slogan. “I never demanded them to come. That’s them saying: ‘We’re going to be there and make sure we support the boys.’ And we’re going to need it.
“It’s going to be a hell of a game on Monday. The Republic will be ready for it, so we’re going to need all the help we can get.”
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