Euro 2016: Ireland Face Injury Crisis, Hungary Underdogs

Roy Keane, Martin O'Neill (via Wikimedia Commons).
Roy Keane, Martin O'Neill (via Wikimedia Commons). /

Euro 2016 qualification play-offs are here, and Kevin Kelly previews two matches: Norway vs. Hungary; and Bosnia – Herzegovina vs. the Republic of of Ireland. 

Norway vs. Hungary

Norway host Hungary in Oslo’s Ulevaal Stadion on Thursday in the first leg of their European Championship play-offs for next summer’s tournament in France.

Norway go into Thursday’s clash having finished 3rd in Group H, behind both Italy and Croatia.

History is on the side of the Scandinavian’s for this tie: Norway have not lost to Hungary since 1981, a fact that will boost their morale ahead of the all important first leg.

That play-off represents a chance to shed old demons for Norway, who lost play-offs for both the 2004 European Championships and the 2006 World Cup.

Norway head coach Per-Mathias Högmo is likely to go with much of the side that has gone him to this point.

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However, Haitam Aleesami is likely to fill in at left-back with Tom Høgli absent from the squad that will host Hungary in the first leg of their play-off.

Hungary meanwhile finished up in 3rd place in Group behind Northern Ireland and Romania in Group F.

Hungary have won seven and lost five of their 17 meetings with Norway, that last scalp – a 4-1 victory was over three decades ago.

Hungary are featuring in a UEFA European Championship play-off for the first time; they contested the 1998 World Cup play-offs but crashed out 12-1 on aggregate to Yugoslavia.

Hungary won just one of their last four qualifying matches (W1 D2 L1), and will be hoping to remain in the tie when they take the fixture back to home soil on Sunday.

Roland Juhász will be absent through suspension, meaning Richard Guzmics could partner Tamas Kadar at the heart of their defence.

Notably, goalkeeper Gábor Kiraly’s should earn his 100th cap here.

Norway vs. Hungary Match Prediction

Thursday poses a chance to shed old demons for both countries. Norway are haunted by two consecutive losses in play-offs for international tournaments, while Hungary’s players will forever play in the shadow of their iconic 1950’s team.

With such poor form going into the time, Hungary are rightly predicted to lose the match. But with a narrow score-line, keeping the tie alive for the second-leg will be key for Hungary.

Bosnia – Herzegovina vs. the Republic of Ireland

Bosnia – Herzegovina host the Republic of Ireland at the Bilino Polje Stadium on Friday night in their first-leg play-off for the European Championships in France next summer.  

Bosnia and Herzegovina are on the cusp of qualifying for the European Championships for the first time ever.

The Republic of Ireland stand in their way, and following a World Cup hangover for the Balkan country, they barely made it to the play-off stage, despite their initial expectations surely for automatic qualification.

However, Bosnia – Herzegovina come into this fixture on the back of three straight wins in competitive matches and will be confident of seeing their way past Ireland in the play-offs.

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The hosts will have to make do without Everton midfielder Muhamed Besic, who is suspended for the first-leg, while Vedad Ibisevic may once again get the nod over Roma forward Edin Dzeko.

The Republic of Ireland go into Friday’s match in the midst of an injury and suspension crisis, and will hope to keep the play-off alive when they host Bosnia – Herzegovina in Dublin on Monday night.

Martin O’Neill’s men saved their chances of qualification in the final segment of matches, with the victory at home to Germany the stand out match in Irish football for over a decade.

History will weigh heavily over the Irishmen; their tepid performance in Euro 2012 will need to be remedied, should they qualify for next summer’s tournament.

Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane has all but ruled out Shane Long and Rob Elliot from the first leg of their Euro play-off qualifier, while both Jon Walters and John O’Shea are unavailable due to suspension.

Ireland’s personnel crisis looms large ahead of Friday’s match, but in general the match is difficult to call. The hosts have some fine world stars, but are imbalanced, leaving Ireland a real chance of overcoming Bosnia – Herzegovina over two legs.