Republic of Ireland v Portugal: Ireland look to derail Portuguese train

Portugal come to Dublin on a World Cup mission but Stephen Kenny's Ireland side have their own motivations as they prepare to play in front of a full house again writes Daniel McDonnell...

Sold out signs in Dublin

Ireland's World Cup hopes have long since perished but there's still a considerable level of excitement around Thursday's visit of Portugal to Dublin.

The game sold out weeks in advance, a rarity for Ireland matches these days, and while a healthy number of the 51,700 attendance will be going along to see Cristiano Ronaldo and his star studded teammates, a pair of October wins has increased the enthusiasm levels around Stephen Kenny's young Ireland group.

Scoring a total of seven goals without reply in two games with Azerbaijan and Qatar has certainly taken the heat off Kenny although he still needs a strong week to ensure he stays on in the job.

Sunday's game in Luxembourg is the one he really needs to win whereas this crack at Portugal is more of a free shot. There will be understanding if Ireland lose provided they give the audience bang for their buck. And there's reason to believe this will be a competitive game.

The Portugese conundrum

Before looking at this game from an Irish perspective, it's important to stress where Portugal are at.

This is the first leg of a double header which concludes with a showdown against qualification rivals Serbia in Lisbon on Sunday.

Two draws will put Portugal through to Qatar. If they win in Dublin, they would still need a draw against the Serbs. In other words, all they really need to do against Ireland is avoid defeat. Victory would be good for momentum but it's not a must-win game.

With Ruben Dias, Diogo Jota, Joao Cancelo, Renato Sanches and Joao Palhinha all one booking away from being ruled out of the Serbian clash, the conservatively minded Fernando Santos has a few things to weigh up.

Let's not get carried away. Portugal's squad is stronger than Ireland and, even if they did choose to rotate and rest a few legs with the second game in mind, they will still have the quality to win and they are hardly going to set out in search of a draw against inferior opponents.

Still, it's enough to strike a note of caution when it comes to the trading odds. Portugal should win this game, but they will encounter a pumped up and in-form Ireland side who led until the 90th minute in the first meeting when Ronaldo bagged a late brace to break the all-time international goalscoring record.

Portugal should learn lessons from that match, but Ireland do have the personnel capable of absorbing pressure with a view to striking on the counter.

Skipper Seamus Coleman is fit again to come in at right wing back with Matt Doherty, Enda Stevens and James McClean contenders on the left with Shane Duffy set to be partnered by the experienced John Egan and the promising Andrew Omobamidele in a strong defensive shape.

Ireland just need to tighten up in midfield when they lose possession and are likely to be quite compact in their shape to avoid unnecessary risks.

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In that context, there's trading potential in the Portugal price. Laying them at 1.38 really does appeal in the circumstances even if they have the ability to come good in the end. Their week is not just about this 90 minutes.

Narrow margins

The recommended bet is borne out of the same line of thinking, and doesn't need to be traded. Even if Portugal do get into a winning position, they are unlikely to overstretch themselves to pile on their punishment and their record indicates they will use their knowhow to manage the situation.

Ireland will be positive in their approach but they aren't going to radically alter their shape and throw caution to the wind if they fall behind either. Staying in the game will be a priority. That stood to them against Serbia in September when they hung in and grabbed a late equaliser against the run of play.

Looking to the handicap markets appeals, and the 1.85 about Republic of Ireland [+2] is the play that's advised taking all of the above into consideration.

For punters who want something completely different, try the [13/8] on Sportsbook about Ireland midfielder Jamie McGrath getting 1 or more shots on target. He's an intelligent player with an eye for goal who should be making runs from deep to support Adam Idah and he's overpriced compared to other options in that market.

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