Ireland play Moldova at home next Friday, the same day that Wales are away to Georgia, before the two sides meet in their final Group D game in Cardiff this day week with, potentially, a play-off place for the 2018 finals in Russia at stake.
In-form striker David McGoldrick suffered renewed hamstring trouble in Ipswich’s 3-1 defeat to Bristol City on Saturday, following which manager Mick McCarthy expressed concern about his presence in the Irish squad.
“I am sure they will want him to go over and assess him,” the former Ireland manager said, “but the last thing I need is for him to go over and train or do anything and get injured. We want him fit.”
From his original squad, Martin O’Neil is already without strikers Jon Walters and Kevin Doyle and midfielder James McCarhty, while James McClean and Robbie Brady miss the Moldova game through suspension.
Bournemouth’s Harry Arter (calf) is also on an ongoing injury concern while goalkeeper Keiren Westwood missed Sheffield Wednesday’s game against Cardiff City yesterday as he continues his recovery from a rib injury.
In a major scare for Wales, Gareth Bale was ruled out of Real Madrid’s La Liga game against Espanyol yesterday with a calf muscle problem.
Asked if Bale would link up with Wales, Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane said: “There’s no issue between Madrid and the Welsh national team. His state of fitness will determine whether he joins up with the national squad or not.
“Gareth will go with his national team. He has not played, but as he still has a bit of an issue we would prefer him not to play.”
Meanwhile, defender Shane Duffy has cautioned against any complacency when Ireland host Group D’s bottom side, Moldova, on Friday at the Aviva Stadium.
It was an error by the Brighton centre-half which allowed the Moldovans to equalise Shane Long’s opening goal when the sides met in Chisnau last year before a brace from James McClean sealed a 3-1 win for Ireland.
“We’ve seen upsets in football,” Duffy told FAI TV. “We knew out there it would be difficult. They try and hit you on the counter. They caught us on a mistake that I made. We can’t let that happen again. We’ve got to dominate. We’ve got to start well, deal with the game and then hopefully have a big game on Monday.”
Despite much criticism of recent performances, Duffy said the team’s eyes remain firmly fixed on the prize of World Cup qualification.
“It would be great for the country to get back there,” he said. “We’ve performed well until the last couple of games. If we get there I don’t think there’d be many complaints.”