The Republic of Ireland’s hopes for World Cup qualification were dealt a huge blow on Tuesday night after a 10-man Serbia took firm control of Group D with a 1-0 victory in Dublin.
A second-half Aleksandar Kolarov strike was enough to separate the two sides on the night, placing plenty of emphasis on the mental strength of Martin O’Neil’s side going forward into two major qualification games.
The defeat ultimately leaves qualification out of Ireland’s hands with Wales, wholly viewed as the victors of the evening fixtures, leapfrogging their rivals after a 2-0 win in Moldova.
Realistically, it leaves O’Neill’s men requiring victories against Moldova and Wales to secure a route to Russia in 2018.
The performance, overall, was certainly improved from Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Georgia in Tbilisi and a man-of-the-match performance from David Meyler will certainly put a positive spin on what was, generally, a disappointing night for all involved with the Boys in Green.
Ireland were certainly culpable of misplacing too many passes in the middle of the park and lacked coordination without the injured Jeff Hendrick in midfield.
It was safe to say that the team laboured at times and their naivety was eventually punished by a far more experienced Serbia team, who deservedly top the group.
The inclusion of returning veteran Wes Hoolahan certainly boosted the team’s confidence early in the game but it was not enough to overcame the Serbs on this occasion.
The visitors looked a strong outfit with the experienced spine of Branislav Ivanovic, Nemanja Matic, Dusan Tadic and Aleksandar Mitrovic proving to pay dependence in this crucial match-up.
What happens next?
Ireland’s penultimate World Cup qualifier takes place against Moldova on October 6 at the Aviva Stadium, with a win vital to sustain a World Cup push.
Moldova currently sit bottom of the group and are still without a win, with O’Neill’s troops required to get a result and take all three points.
Given this, many Ireland fans will go into the next round of fixtures with the hope that Wales might slip up themselves when they play away to Georgia the same day.
Currently, only a point separates the two sides in the table and ultimately, if both teams win their penultimate fixtures, then second place in the group would be decided in a winner-takes-all showdown between the two on October 8 in Cardiff.