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Friday, 18 January, 2019

Tight game could end all-square in Dublin

Ireland celebrate during the game against Uruguay
1 of 1

World Cup qualifying Group D
Sky Sports 1, 5pm Sunday

Ireland seemed happy to draw 0-0 at home to Wales in their March World Cup qualifier and they may end up with another share of the spoils after they host Austria at the Aviva Stadium.

Only five goals have been scored in the last five competitive matches played in Dublin and there seems no reason to anticipate a sudden change and a goal-rush against the Austrians.

Martin O'Neill's side have collected 11 points from five games at the halfway stage in Group D and are second, behind leaders Serbia on goal difference.

Finishing top is a realistic possibility but there is the risk of relinquishing second place to third-placed Wales or fourth-placed Austria, who are both four points behind.

Austria could do with a win but their chances are reduced by the absences of attackers Marko Arnautovic and Marc Janko due to suspension and injury. They were key men in the successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign and have amassed respective international goal tallies of 15 and 28.

There isn't much strength-in-depth to Austria's attack and their squad includes three forwards - Schalke's Guido Burgstaller, Hamburg's Michael Gregoritsch and Sturm Graz's Deni Alar - who are still searching for their first international goals.

Martin Harnik is the top scorer in the group with 15 goals but has netted just once for the national team in the last 14 months.

However, he has had a good season for Hannover in Bundesliga 2, scoring 17 goals in 30 league appearances - and poses the main threat to home goalkeeper Darren Randolph.

Ireland, who have kept clean sheets in all of their last five competitive home games, will be well organised and hard to break down but face a similar problem to Austria with a lack of quality in attack.

Shane Long misses out with a broken metatarsal and David McGoldrick withdrew from the squad with a knee injury.

It leaves O'Neill with just two recognised strikers - Daryl Murphy, who has scored one goal in 25 internationals, and veteran Jonathan Walters, who missed training earlier in the week with a knee problem.

Walters has been far from prolific for the Boys in Green - scoring 13 in 48 - and the Irish plan will be to keep things tight and play to their strengths at corners and set-pieces.

Austria should be well prepared to resist the aerial bombardment.

They are strong in central defence with Watford player of the season Sebastian Prodl and Bundesliga regulars Martin Hinteregger and Aleksandr Dragovic competing for places but the big question is their approach to the game.

The question is whether Austria head coach Marcel Koller believes it is game they need to win, in which case he might take some risks. Or he could be more mindful of avoiding an away defeat which would almost certainly end their qualification hopes.

The draw would probably suit Ireland more than Austria but Koller knows his team's limitations without Arnautovic and Janko and will be aware that there are still plenty of games to close the four-point gap to the top two.

One thing is certain. Ireland will not be throwing caution to the wind in search of victory and their pragmatic approach increases the chances of a stalemate.

1pt 11-5 bet365, BoyleSports, Betfair

Team news
Seamus Coleman (leg), David McGoldrick (knee) and Shane Long (metatarsal) are out but Jonathan Walters has shaken off a knee problem.

Defender Andreas Ulmer is away for his wedding, Marko Arnautovic and Stefan Ilsanker are suspended and Marc Janko and Marcel Sabitzer are injured.

Key stat
All of Ireland's last seven competitive homes have featured fewer than three goals.

Austria's chances are reduced by the absences of attackers Marko Arnautovic and Marc Janko
E.W. Terms
Sky bet