Second-placed Republic of Ireland host table-topping Serbia at Aviva Stadium on Tuesday night in a World Cup qualifier, where a win for either side would go a long way in qualifying for Russia next year. (Kick-off 7:45 PM)
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
The Boys in Green come into this game off the back of an uninspired, tepid performance in drawing 1-1 with 112th-ranked-in-the-world Georgia in Tbilisi on Saturday. (See match report here).
One look at social media after the game told a story- 'The worst Ireland performance under Martin O'Neill', ‘Abysmal football', were just some of the tweets knocking about on Twitter.
Before Saturday’s game had a chance to settle into a rhythm, Ireland went ahead through Shane Duffy's powerful header on four minutes after a mishap by the keeper.
Georgia responded better after that as they enjoyed more possession and pushed Ireland back inside their own half.
The Georgians drew level on 34 minutes when Valeri Kazaishvili fired in following a good counter-attacking move.
Ireland tried to fight their way back in front and went close through James McClean, Jonathan Walters and Aiden McGeady.
The Serbs beat Moldova and are now two points clear at the top and with Wales defeating Austria later that same day, moving two points adrift of Ireland in the process, all the pressure is on O’Neill’s home side.
Ireland had only 31% possession in the game and the much-criticised Glenn Whelan completed just three forward passes in the second half.
O'Neill admits his side will have to produce a "phenomenal effort" to beat a more technically adept team than them on Tuesday.
"We'll have to be really, really at our best to win the game - but we can do that," added O'Neill.
"We're in there fighting, that's what we're doing. We are unbeaten in the group at this moment. It's hard to believe, but we're unbeaten in the group.
"We're going to try and do two things - win the game, and if we can't do that, then we'll try to get something out of it." (Full Martin O’Neill interview here).
The Eagles moved two points ahead of Ireland by earning a 3-0 home win over whipping- boys Moldova on Saturday, which kicked off at the same time as the Georgia-Ireland game.
Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder Mijat Gacinovic netted in his second consecutive game in the win as well as Roma's Aleksandar Kolarov and Newcastle's Aleksandar Mitrovic also finding the target.
Serbia coach Slavoljub Muslin withdrew Manchester United's defensive midfielder Nemanja Matic and Southampton's attacking midfielder Dusan Tadic well before the end of the game with a bid of keeping them both fresh for tonight.
The aforementioned Mitrovic has eight goals in his last ten appearances for his country, so Ireland's defence will no doubt be wary of the 6’2 22-year-old if he appears.
The country last appeared in the World Cup in South Africa 2010, 11 years after they gained official independence from Serbia and Montenegro.
The 42nd-ranked-team-in-the-world have a record of four wins, three draws and no defeats from their seven Group D games.
Their wins have come against Moldova (X2), Austria and Georgia. Their stalemates have been against Ireland and Wales (X2).
Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey)
Both sides have met each other four times, three of them being friendlies, and Serbia have won one whereas there has been three draws. Their first meeting was in 2008.
Serbia have a record of four wins, three draws and no defeats from their seven Group D games. Ireland, meanwhile, have one less win and one more draw than the Serbs.
On September 5th 2016, the first game of the group, Serbia hosted Ireland to a 2-2 draw in Belgrade. Daryl Murphy had to rescue a point after a Jeff Hendrick deflected strike was cancelled out by Filip Kostic and Tadic.
Ireland’s last five games- DDWLL
Serbia's last five games- WDWDL
Republic of Ireland 7/4; Draw 2/1; Serbia; 13/8
Ireland 1–1 Serbia
Injured: Jeff Hendrick (groin)
Doubtful: Aiden McGeady (hamstring), Wes Hoolahan (groin)
Republic of Ireland squad:
Goalkeepers: Darren Randolph, Keiren Westwood, Rob Elliot
Defenders: Cyrus Christie, Richard Keogh, Shane Duffy, Ciaran Clark, John O'Shea, Kevin Long, Stephen Ward
Midfielders: Aiden McGeady, Glenn Whelan, Harry Arter, Conor Hourihane, Robbie Brady, David Meyler, Daryl Horgan, Wes Hoolahan, Callum O'Dowda, James McClean, Jonny Hayes
Forwards: Jonathan Walters, Daryl Murphy, Shane Long