DUBLIN (Reuters) – While world champions Germany will be eager to seal their automatic qualification for Euro 2016 with a win on Thursday, Ireland will have one eye nervously cast on the progress of playoff rivals Scotland.
Victory in Dublin would keep Germany on course to top Group D ahead of Poland although winger Lukas Podolski is doubtful for the match, and Sunday’s game against Georgia after picking up an ankle injury.
However, Marco Reus is available after missing the last two qualifiers with a fractured toe.
The Germans, like every other national team, have only had a short time to prepare and coach Joachim Loew said he had taken that into account in his planning.
“The players at the moment are under a lot of strain and that is something we have considered, but I don’t want to start experimenting,” he said.
Loew said he expected the Irish to be more aggressive than Scotland, who lost 3-2 to Germany in Glasgow last month.
“Scotland were mainly concerned with not conceding a goal, The Irish will be attacking with even more courage. They have a lot of high quality players,” he said.
An injury-hit Irish defence faces the daunting task of stopping Germany’s frontline that includes in-form Thomas Mueller, who has scored eight goals in qualifying, and Mario Goetze, both of whom scored twice in their wins over Poland and Scotland last month.
Captain John O’Shea, who scored a last minute equaliser when the sides met a year ago, will likely be partnered by the inexperienced Richard Keogh at the heart of defence with Marc Wilson and Ciaran Clark both doubtful. Midfielder Glenn Whelan is suspended.
Ireland coach Martin O’Neill will mostly be keen to get on and talk about someone other than Jack Grealish, the Aston Villa midfielder who eventually chose to represent England over Ireland last week, a saga that has dominated Irish football for over a year.
Ireland are four points clear of Scotland in the battle for a third place play-off spot and will not need a result against the group leading Germans or Poland if Scotland fail to get at least a draw at home to the Poles on Thursday and a win over lowly Gibraltar in their final game.
“I wouldn’t have a concern at all about the play-offs,” O’Neill said.
“Over two games I’d take my chances. If you were saying would I take the play-offs now, there’s no point in beating around the bush – yeah.”
(Writing by Padraic Halpin and Karolos Grohmann, editing by Pritha Sarkar)