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Wednesday, 16 January, 2019

In-form Ireland could get blown away by Bale's Wales

O'Neill without several key men

Gareth Bale during a Wales training session
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World Cup qualifier: Group D
Sky Sports 1, 7.45pm Friday

Ireland are off to a strong start in World Cup qualifying but their unbeaten status in Group D could be threatened by a Gareth Bale-inspired Wales at the Aviva Stadium.

Martin O'Neill's men have learnt from the mistakes of their unconvincing start to Euro 2016 qualifying and have hit the ground running on the road to Russia.

Ten points from four games has established them at the top of the section and some of the tougher games are out of the way following a 2-2 away to Serbia and a 1-0 victory in Austria.

Three points against Wales would put Ireland in a great position but O'Neill team selection could be a tricky one with several key players ruled out through injury and suspension.

Three of the back four who started the win over Austria are unavailable with Robbie Brady banned and Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark injured.

And Ireland may be less of a threat in attack without injured playmaker Wes Hoolahan, who is the man they rely on to pull the strings in the final third.

Given Ireland's absentees and their position in the group, a draw might not be seen as the worst result but Wales are likely to have other ideas as they seek to make amends for a slow start to qualification.

It was always going to be hard for Wales to knuckle down after the incredible highs of their run to the semi-finals at Euro 2016 and they did not look themselves in early World Cup qualifiers – drawing away to Austria (2-2) and at home to Georgia (1-1) and Serbia (1-1).

At the outset of qualification, they might have looked at match in Dublin as one where they would happily settle for a draw but the mood has changed, leaving Chris Coleman's men to eye up a victory.

Wales will need to go about the task sensibly and ensure defensive duties are carried out with high levels of concentration.

But they could have the edge in midfield thanks to the Premier League trio of Joe Ledley, Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale is the obvious ace in their pack.

Bale's La Liga campaign has been interrupted by an ankle injury which ruled him out for three months but he has been steadily building up his match fitness and completed a full 90 minutes last week for the first time this year – helping Real Madrid win 2-1 away to Athletic Bilbao.

Bale is closing in on peak fitness at a great time for Wales and still has plenty of time to lead their charge to the World Cup.

He performed heroics on the road to Euro 2016 – scoring seven of Wales's 11 goals – and should appreciate playing against a weakened Irish defence.

Bale is the only world-class player on show and his quality is the reason Wales are a value draw no bet wager.

Wales draw no bet
1pt 5-4 Betfair

Team news
Robbie Brady is suspended and James McCarthy is doubtful due to a minor injury. Daryl Murphy, Shane Duffy, Ciaran Clark, Wes Hoolahan and Harry Arter are out.

Tom Lawrence misses out through injury but all of Wales's key first-team players are available

Key stat
Wales have lost one of their last 16 qualifiers.



Bale is the only world-class player on show and his quality is the reason Wales are a value draw no bet wager
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