Republic top Group D after win in Austria

James McClean

The Republic of Ireland enjoyed a first victory over Austria since 1963 to move top of Group D, boosting their chances of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

James McClean struck early after the break with a super goal from an acute angle to surprise an Austrian team which had dominated the opening 45 minutes.

The victory, Ireland’s first over Austria in nine matches, leaves Martin O’Neill’s men with 10 points.

Early pace-setters Serbia, who have seven points, play Wales at 19:45 GMT in Cardiff and anything other than a victory for the Serbians will ensure Ireland end the year as group leaders.

A tale of two halves

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Manager Martin O’Neill said before the match his team would “go for it” against a country they had beaten only twice in 14 meetings, but they failed to make an impact in a soporific first half as they were reduced to containing an Austrian side which was dominating possession.

Ireland had no shots on target in the first 45 minutes, unsurprising as they had only 35.4% of possession, and Jon Walters, leading the line on his own, had little to work with.

The Stoke forward did waste a glorious chance, shooting over the crossbar when sliding through unchallenged six yards from goal in a rare chance for the visitors.

But O’Neill’s men were transformed after the break, bossing the hosts immediately.

Austria’s Kevin Wimmer lost possession near his own corner flag – the Tottenham player hopefully appealed for a foul – and the Irish counter-attacked with pace.

Wes Hoolahan found McClean with a delicious pass, setting the West Brom winger up to shoot from left of goal and through the legs of Ramazan Ozcan.

Walters thought he had doubled the lead minutes later, but his header was disallowed for offside. By then however O’Neill’s men had done enough to record a historic win.

Austria under pressure

Austria, many people’s dark horses before the start of Euro 2016 after their impressive unbeaten qualifying campaign for that tournament, have struggled to stop the rot which set in in France.

They have now won only once in seven games and are six points adrift of an Ireland side, who are top after four of their 10 qualifying games.

Their star players – Bayern Munich’s David Alaba and Stoke’s Marko Arnautovic – failed to inspire and the odds on Marcel Koller’s side qualifying for their first World Cup since 1998 have lengthened.

Austria had chances, their best coming just before the break when Marcel Sabitzer struck the crossbar after being put through by Arnautovic.

But the player which summed up their disappointing 90 minutes was Marc Janko, who twice squandered chances to level. The striker should have at least tested Darren Randolph instead of heading wide and did the same in injury time in what was his team’s last throw of the dice.

More to follow.

BBC Sports - View Original Story

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