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Dublin: 1 °C Saturday 16 December, 2017
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Hello, and welcome to today’s liveblog.

As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the game. E-mail aaron@the42.ie, tweet @the42_ie, post a message to our Facebook wall, or leave a comment below.

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Kick off is at 7.45pm.

Let’s get started with some team news…

Well, here we are now. We’re down, but not out, do-or-die, now or never — pick whichever cliche you wish, there is only one thing that matters over the next four days and it’s two wins.

We have been fixating over permutations (let us never, please God ever have to hear that word again) ever since the last set of qualifiers against Georgia and Serbia, but without six points against Moldova and Wales, those permutations and scenarios mean absolutely nothing.

Ireland were given the best possible start heading into tonight’s game in Dublin after Scotland defeated Slovakia 1-0 and England defeated Slovenia at Wembley last night.

Those results mean Scotland are now back in the running for a playoff spot, however we are now quickly turning our favour against the Scots, hoping they fall to Slovenia on Sunday night so that Ireland instead can claim the playoff spot (and not be the worst second placed team).

Were Ireland to beat Moldova tonight and beat Wales on Monday, on top of Scotland failing to beat Slovenia — Ireland would be 100%, absolutely, no kidding mister, guaranteed a playoff spot.

But there’s a lot of work to be done, and a lot of luck thrown our way before we reach that conclusion.

The big talking points from this evening’s team news sees David Meyler named captain in midfield, while Wes Hoolahan and Callum O’Dowda are both given starts too.

Sean Maguire has earned a place on the bench, with Shane Long partnered up front by Daryl Murphy.

Confirmation received that Wales have beaten Georgia, closing the gap on Serbia at the top of Group D and inching further away from Ireland.

It changes very little for Ireland, however. Two wins were needed before kick-off and that remains the same.

Is really is incredible to reflect on just how much things have changed since Ireland walked out before kick-off in Tbilisi a month ago.

That 1-1 draw with Georgia not only marked arguably the worst performance of the O’Neill era, but also gave us an intense interview with Tony O’Donoghue, which didn’t curry favour.

Next we welcomed Serbia to Lansdowne Road, but came out the other end with a 1-0 defeat which left our hopes of reaching next summer’s World Cup in tatters.

After that last week saw Kevin Doyle retire from international football, while we also witnessed the next generation of Sean Maguire, Aiden O’Brien and Scott Hogan receive their first international call-ups to the finalised senior squad.

On top of all those headlines, this week’s bombshell saw Martin O’Neill offered a new contract on the eve of this pair of qualifiers.

And they say international football is boring. Pffffft. With Ireland, and with this particular qualification campaign the drama never seems to give up, does it?

Now all that’s left to do is run into the abysses, play some football and see where we are when we wake up on Tuesday morning. You just never know.

Just in case you missed it earlier, here are the official teams for tonight’s game…

Ireland: Randolph, Ward, Clark Duffy, Christie, O’Dowda, Hendrick, Meyler, Hoolahan,, Murphy, Long

Subs: Doyle, Elliot, O’Shea, Keogh, Long, Whelan, O’Kane, Arter, McGeady, Hourihane, Hogan, Maguire

Moldova: Cebanu, Epureanu,Racu, Bordian, Rozgoniuc, Anton, Gaţcan, Ioniţă, Gînsari, Dedov, Plătică

Subs: S. Paşcenco, Koşelev, Graur, Antoniuc, Cociuc, Ojog, Paşcenco, Cojocari, Ambros

Captain, leader, legend — Seamus Coleman pictured ahead of kick-off.

Seamus Coleman Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Less than 10 minutes to go before kick-off as the teams prepare to take the field for the national anthems. Anticipation is building and excitement brewing.

Taken into account the opposition this should be the easy part for Ireland. That said, I think we have learned never to underestimate any opponents following that result in Tbilisi…

Now, then. The teams have emerged as we prepare for the national anthems. Minutes to go.

A rousing, rousing moment’s applause for the late Jimmy Magee who sadly passed away two weeks ago.

1Mins

Some early challenges as Plătică hits Jeff Hendrick from behind, leaving the Burnley midfielder holding his ankle in pain. The free-kick is promising but is tapped into touch for an Ireland throw.

3Mins

What a start for Ireland! It’s Daryl Murphy, who gets his second ever international goal. The resulting free-kick was thrown deep into the penalty area. Moldova simply didn’t attack it and Murphy was happy to stick out a leg and prod it home into the far corner. Brilliant!

5Mins

That is just what Martin O’Neill would have wanted. A first attack, a first shot on target and a goal already.

This is only stage one and a win tonight is expected, but that will surely settle nerves as Ireland go in search of a second to make sure of their lead.

Ireland went ahead early against Georgia thanks to Shane Duffy, but will have learned their lessons of the perils of sitting back. Hopefully.

8Mins

Another free-kick for Ireland as Wes Hoolahan is held by Anton while attempting to burst through enemy lines.

8Mins

It’s a deep free-kick from Hendrick, but the set-piece is flagged offside as Ireland sense a degree of nervously already from the visitors. They don’t seem to be appreciating these long balls into the box.

10Mins

Some very good, patient build-up play from Ireland as they strum the ball from side-to-side waiting for an opening to present itself.

David Meyler already looking comfortable and in control deep in midfield with the armbamd.

12Mins

Chance! Some thought that had went in: Callum O’Dowda with an effort from just outside the penalty area cutting inside onto his left foot. His effort is a few inches from the target, but wraps itself wide and around the goal’s netting.

14Mins

Ireland try that same throw-in routine again. This time it’s Stephen Ward throwing it in, but Moldova scramble it clear as the hosts flood bodies into the box in attack. We could see this maneuver a few more times before the night is out…

15Mins

Ooooooh that was close! Some stunning, stunning football from Ireland. A brilliant through ball from Wes Hoolahan sees Callum O’Dowda veer into the box — he crosses towards Shane Long inside the area, however Long’s shot flies just wide.

21Mins

It’s a second for Murphy! And it’s more champagne football from Ireland! Some superb combinations from Hoolahan and Ward sees the defender cross where Murphy drops a looping header into the back of the net. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant football.

23Mins

A chance! Shane Long almost grabs a third as he forces a low save from Moldova goalkeeper Cebanu who comes from his line and closes down the space before saving with a firm right hand.

25Mins

Daryl Murphy is receiving all the love and rightly so. The Nottingham Forrest forward has been in good form so far this season and in the blink of an eye has went from the man who couldn’t score for Ireland, to bagging a brace in a flash!

It must be stressed the fine, neat, flowing football Ireland have played in patches this game. Murphy’s second was almost reminiscent of Burnley’s winning goal at Goodison Park last weekend featuring Stephen Ward and Jeff Hendrick.

27Mins

SAVE! WHAT A SAVE.

Darren Randolph just performed one of the most impressive saves you’ll ever see. A long range effort from Plătică destined for the top corner is plucked from the air by the fist of the goalkeeper who forces it over the top of the crossbar.

Buffon would be proud of that one.

28Mins

Here’s that second goal. Watch it again. And again. And again.

30Mins

Both sides could have scored there. Moldova break against a high Irish line which forces Randolph to come from his line and clear with a sliding challenge.

The ball then finds its way up the other end of the field where O’Dowda almost broke away unmarked to make a one on one chance for himself. Quite literally end-to-end there.

33Mins

Elsewhere in Group D Austria have equalised against Serbia.

35Mins

A chance to grab a third for Ireland ends in disappointment. Shane Long somehow finds himself onside and bearing down on goal with yards to spare.

Long slows down as he waits for options to unreal themselves inside the box, however the Southampton striker’s final pass is poor and deflected clear.

37Mins

Ioniţă does well to break at the other end and force a rare effort on goal for the visitors. He cuts inside smartly and forces another good save from Randolph, who stands his ground with the shot aimed right at him.

39Mins

That feeling when you score a brace for your country…

Daryl Murphy celebrates scoring a second goal Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

40Mins

Some more promising attacks for Ireland come and go. The chances are presenting themselves as Moldova crumble time after time any time Ireland ask questions of them.

That third goal is proving elusive, however. Perhaps a certain Sean Maguire could lend a hand in the second half.

42Mins

A yellow card for Rozgoniuc for a foul on Christie which gives Ireland another free-kick in a dangerous position.

44Mins

It’s swung in well by Hendrick, however Ciaran Clark’s header inside the area is fired wide of the post as we approach the interval. Five more minutes to go before the break.

45Mins

Jeff Hendrick’s shot from range is deflected narrowly wide. It was a fine half-volley from the midfielder, which gives Ireland a first corner of the game.

45Mins

Chance! Shane Duffy rises, however he meets the ball slighty too late as he begins to come back down to earth. It lacks precision and is fired over the crossbar.

45Mins

Well, what do we think of that then? You really couldn’t ask for much more. A fast-paced, entertaining game at both ends with Ireland comfortably 2-0 ahead.

People asked where the goals were going to come from ahead of this game. With just a single goal in Ireland’s last three home qualifiers in Dublin, would they come from Shane Long, Sean Maguire or Scott Hogan?

Well, the answer was none of the above as Daryl Murphy has proved his critics wrong with a brilliant first half double, aided by a stunning performance from Callum O’Dowda in midfield.

Moldova have had their chances, however Darren Randolph has stood the test time, after time with some spectacular saves.

More goals could be to come, and hopefully some more of that champagne football from O’Dowda, Hoolahan and Hendrick, too.

51Mins

A half-chance from the visitors as Racu rises high to head an effort towards goal from a long throw-in following a very scrappy start to this second half.

Darren Randolph comes from his line confidently and punches clear with a heavy fist. A promising start from the visitors who are looking to half the deficit.

50Mins

The pace has slowed significantly in the game — there’s a lot of long balls, booted clearances and scrappy challenges as that lovely, free-flowing football of the opening 45 minutes descends into the horizon.

58Mins

Ireland beginning to sit back and invite pressure from Moldova, stocking the ball along the back four and back to Darren Randolph with lax and ease.

62Mins

CHANCE! How on earth was that not three?

The goal was gaping for Shane Long, who just cannot seem to hit the target. A selfless pass from Wes Hoolahan forces a block, with the ball falling on a silver platter for Long five yards from goal, who does not seem to have enough space to angle a shot into the empty net.

He really, really won’t want to see that again. But, like always, he just cannot seem to hit the target and convert chances into goals. This time he blasts it wide and the supporters inside the Aviva Stadium are in disbelief.

64Mins

Shane Long just can’t buy a goal for love nor money.

Shane Long and Ilie Cebanu Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

66Mins

Sean Maguire is beginning to warm up as a potential Ireland debut lies in wait for the former Cork City striker.

69Mins

Moldova enjoying the upper hand as Ireland begin to lose the run of this game ever so slighty. The hosts are dominating possession as Ireland sit back and lump balls forward. The crowd has quietened as Ireland prepare to make some changes.

71Mins

A push from Callum O’Dowda earns Moldova a free-kick as Ireland fail to push bodies forward in such of that third goal that looked oh so likely following Murphy’s second.

74Mins

A really, really strange set-up from Ireland in this second half. Eleven bodies behind the ball, with Shane Long seemingly deployed at left back and Daryl Murphy at right back.

76Mins

Chance! The first in quite a while as Cyrus Christie races down the right wing and cuts into the penalty area brilliantly. He attempts to provide a cross but his low effort is gathered quickly by goalkeeper Cebanu at the front post.

78Mins

Substitution for Ireland: Harry Arter replaces Daryl Murphy.

78Mins

Substitution for Ireland: Aidan McGeady replaces Wes Hoolahan.

78Mins

Substitution for Moldova: Vladimir Ambros replaces Sergiu Platica.

79Mins

A fantastic night’s work from the Waterford man.

83Mins

Substitution for Ireland: Sean Maguire replaces Shane Long.

83Mins

What a moment as Sean Maguire, the League of Ireland’s top goalscorer and current Preston North End striker makes his long-awaited debut for Ireland.

86Mins

Some promising early touches for Maguire sees the striker finds Aidan McGeady on the left wing. His ball into the box is gathered well by Cebanu.

88Mins

Daryl Murphy has been named the ’3′ Man of the Match for a brilliant brace which won’t soon be forgotten, either by the man himself or the fans who were there to see it tonight.

90Mins

55,560 is the attendance for tonight’s game as we approach stoppage time. Three points await and stage one complete.

90Mins

There will be just two minutes of additional time to come.

90Mins

Gatcan has been sent off in the dying stages of this game as, following a challenge with Harry Arter, puts his head into the Ireland midfielder’s aggressively. He is giving his marching orders and will miss Moldova’s final qualifying game against Austria.

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