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Here's the Ireland XI that should play against Wales

Martin O’Neill faces some tough calls ahead of his side’s climactic Group D qualifier.

Our starting XI

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Goalkeeper and defence

Martin O’Neill’s most straightforward selection. The back five of Darren Randolph, Cyrus Christie, Shane Duffy, Ciaran Clark and Stephen Ward have started the last three competitive games on the bounce and barring any last-minute injuries, the players in question will almost certainly all retain their places after earning a clean sheet at the Aviva on Friday evening.

Midfield

Jeff Hendrick has always featured when available during this campaign and so despite a somewhat quiet display against Moldova last week, he is almost certain to feature.

It will be intriguing to see who plays alongside him. After a disappointing performance against Georgia, Martin O’Neill may feel Glenn Whelan’s time as a regular starter has come to an end.

As one of the side’s few Premier League-playing midfielders, Harry Arter may feel he deserves a chance, though the fact that O’Neill made David Meyler captain last week would suggest he is ready to place faith in the Hull midfielder, while James McCarthy has been ruled out through injury and so definitely won’t play any part in the clash.

Expect Conor Hourihane to be considered from the bench if Ireland need a goal, as was the case against Serbia, though the Aston Villa star is not expected to play from the outset.

Attack

As well as Callum O’Dowda did against Moldova on his competitive debut, the fact remains that Ireland were up against the worst side in the group by far and will expect a much tougher test against Wales. Consequently, expect the more experienced Robbie Brady and James McClean to return to the starting XI, having been suspended for Friday’s match. It will be curious, however, to see who O’Neill opts to select in the other two attacking slots.

On form, Daryl Murphy, who hit a brace against the Moldovans, deserves to start. The misfiring Shane Long, on the other hand, is by no means guaranteed to retain his place in the team, and O’Neill may prefer to use the Tipperary native as an impact sub, a role in which he has proved effective in the past, most notably during the famous 1-0 win over Germany two years ago.

It’s been a year to the day since Long last scored for Ireland (away to Moldova), so playing him as the lone frontman would be a risk, particularly given the Boys in Green’s recent well-documented struggles as a team in front of goal. Nevertheless, the Southampton’s star’s energy, in what is likely to be a high-intensity match, may earn him a place in the role normally occupied by Jon Walters, who is currently injured. The riskier selection would be to play Sean Maguire in that position, though handing the Preston striker his full competitive debut on such a big occasion would be a huge call.

Wes Hoolahan, who caught the eye and controlled the game against Moldova, is unlikely to feature from the off, given that he very rarely starts two games in quick succession. Of Ireland’s nine fixtures in Group D so far, the 35-year-old Dubliner has started just four — two of which have been against the group’s worst side, Moldova, which suggests O’Neill is reluctant to trust the Norwich star in the bigger games at times, even if he did play against Serbia last month.

In terms of other alternatives, Aiden McGeady, if he doesn’t start, is likely to feature from the bench at some point if things aren’t going well for the visitors and they need a goal.

Predicted starting XI

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