Walters strikes twice to send jubilant Ireland to Euro 2016
Euro 2016 qualification play-off, Aviva Stadium - Republic of Ireland 2 (Walters 24 pen, 70) Bosnia-Herzegovina 0
reland's striker Jonathan Walters (C) celebrates after scoring his team's first goal from a penalty during a UEFA Euro 2016 Group D qualifying second leg play-off football match between Ireland and Bosnia Herzegovina at the Aviva stadium in Dublin on Nove
Jon Walters was the two-goal hero, as the Republic of Ireland beat Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-0 at the Aviva Stadium to progress to the finals of the European Championship in France next summer.
The Stoke forward, Ireland's stand-out player in this qualifying campaign, opened the scoring from the penalty spot after 24 minutes, then ended any hopes of a comeback from their opponents with a brilliant cushioned volley 20 minutes from time in a 3-1 aggregate win.
Walters will rightly dominate the headlines, but manager Martin O'Neill will surely also lavish praise on the centre-back pairing of Ciaran Clark and Richard Keogh, who nullified the threat of both Edin Dzeko and then substitute Vedad Ibisevic as the away side hurled bodies forward in the final 20 minutes.
Clark, who has been on the fringes of the first team at Aston Villa, and Keogh, who plays Championship football with Derby County, were the bedrock on which this famous win was built.
Ireland had their moments of luck, not least the decision of Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers to award a penalty midway through the first half when Ervin Zukanovic seemed to try to take evasive action to get his hand out the way of Daryl Murphy's cross from the right.
Walters accepted the gift greedily, rolling an assured penalty past Asmir Begovic in the Bosnia goal to get the Lansdowne Road stadium rocking.
But there was no hint of fortune about the second goal, 20 minutes from time, with the Liverpool-born Walters superbly finishing at the far post from Robbie Brady's deflected free-kick.
It completes a remarkable Euro 2016 comeback for O'Neill's side, who looked on the brink of elimination following last November's 1-0 defeat to Scotland at Celtic Park and the 1-1 draw with Gordon Strachan's side in June in Dublin.
23' – PENALTY! Coleman cuts in to Hoolahan and the ball gets to Murphy. The referee Bjorn Kuipers harshly points to the spot as Ervin Zukanovic handles in the area.
24' – GOAL! Ireland 1-0 Bosnia and Herzegovina. Walters rolls the spot-kick to the left of Begovic and Ireland lead. They deserved it - they have dominated the early stages. Ireland lead 2-1 on aggregate.
34' – CHANCE! Medunjanin shoots over from 20 yards following Dzeko's smart cushioned head back from Lulic's diagonal ball.
Bosnia & Herzegovina's Emir Spahic, Ognjen Vranjes and teammates look dejected after Republic of Ireland's first goal
Image credit: Reuters
43' – CHANCE! Hoolahan charges down a Begovic clearance, but the Chelsea goalkeeper is able to recover and drop on the loose ball in the six-yard box.
70' – GOAL! Republic of Ireland 2-0 Bosnia and Herzegovina. Brady's free-kick towards the back post is deflected, and Walters cushions a volley past Begovic at the far post.
89' - CHANCE! Walters tries an effort from 40 yards as he spots Begovic off his line. That would have been some way to wrap up a hat-trick!
90+2' - HITS THE CROSSBAR! Pjanic's free-kick deflects off the back of O'Shea's head, and Ibisevic sees his volley slam off the crossbar!
Did Martin O'Neill win the tactical battle?
O’Neill outshone his opposite number Mehmed Bazdarevic in the battle of the managers, with Ireland's 4-5-1 formation dominating the midfield and breaking up any Bosnian attempts to retain possession.
Republic of Ireland's Jeff Hendrick celebrates their UEFA Euro 2016 qualification after the match with Glenn Whelan and teammates
Image credit: Reuters
Bosnia’s attacking efforts were mostly limited to forays down the right-hand flank, particularly through the impressive Ognjen Vranjes and Edin Visca, but in the second half O'Neill brought on James McClean to add some steel to help protect left-back Robbie Brady.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Jon Walters (Republic of Ireland)
The return of Jon Walters from suspension proved pivotal, with the Stoke forward relieving some of the burden on Daryl Murphy, who was isolated as the lone target man during the first leg in Zenica .
Walters’ deeper position on the right allowed him to track back throughout the game, and he even swapped flanks to help out Robbie Brady on the left side of defence when Visca started to threatem.
Walters' early penalty on 24 minutes settled the nerves at the Aviva, and he cranked up the party atmosphere with his second 20 minutes from time, a superb cushioned volley from Robbie Brady's deflected free-kick.
"The whole team on the pitch were heroes, Richard [Keogh] at the back, Darren [Randolph], unbelievable from everyone. We got there in the end, we got there the hard way but we got there," Walters told Sky Sports.
"Without a shadow of a doubt, to qualify and play the way we did, it was unbelievable. You've just got to take it all in because these moments don't come around very often in people's careers.
"To have this special group of players, my wife and children watching, it's a very special moment."