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Saturday, 15 December, 2018

Wales set to bag World Cup playoff spot on road to Russia

Cautious approach may cost Irish in crucial qualifier

Tom Lawrence (right) was Wales's match-winner in Georgia
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World Cup qualifier
S4C/Sky Sports Football, 7.45pm Monday

In qualifying terms the stakes could barely be higher for Wales and Ireland, who meet in a virtual World Cup playoff before the playoffs and the hosts can make home advantage count in Cardiff.

Ireland must win to continue their World Cup dream, while a victory for Wales would at least cement a playoff spot with a draw possibly doing for Chris Coleman's men depending on results elsewhere.

There is even a small chance of Wales qualifying automatically at the expense of current table-toppers Serbia. But realistically this is all about the battle for second and the Dragons can rise better to the occasion despite the continued absence of injured star man Gareth Bale.

The reverse fixture was a dire goalless stalemate, but over the course of qualifying Wales have looked a better side than Ireland and proved they can perform without Bale with a deserved 1-0 triumph over Georgia on Friday.

Tom Lawrence scored the only goal of the game as Coleman's side maintained their unbeaten run in Group D, a section which has seen Wales accumulate more points than Ireland as well as score more goals and concede fewer.

Any team would miss the quality of Bale but Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey have chipped in with goals from midfield, while in defence it's only one goal conceded in their last five matches.

Ben Davies is playing at a high level for Tottenham and Coleman, who guided this Welsh side to the semi-finals of Euro 2016, has made influential substitutions at crucial periods.

The Welsh side, even without Bale, appear a more positive team and the nature of this winner-takes-all type of contest could suit them more than pragmatic Ireland.

Friday's 2-0 win over Moldova was Ireland's first competitive success since November 2016. It was also the first time since they met the same opponents in qualifying six matches ago that Martin O'Neill's men managed to score more than once in a qualifier.

Robbie Brady and James McClean will bring fresh energy and quality having sat out Friday's clash but Ireland have generally been a side happy to sit back, concede possession and wait patiently for opportunities under O'Neill.

The dynamic of the group situation could mean at some stage that approach needs to change and Ireland may lack the goalscoring firepower to force the issue.

Shane Long is 24 matches without a goal for club and country and Wales appear in the better shape for this crunch clash.

1pt 7-5 Sky Bet

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Team news
James Collins and Gareth Bale are injured.

Robbie Brady and James McClean return from bans. Seamus Coleman and Jonathan Walters are injured.

Key stat
Only four of the 18 qualifiers combined for Wales and Ireland have gone over 2.5 goals.

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Ireland have generally been a side happy to sit back, concede possession and wait patiently for opportunities under O'Neill
E.W. Terms
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