Ireland's victory sets up tantalising play-off wrangle in Wales

REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

All eyes on Cardiff.

Ireland beat Moldova 2-0 in Friday's clash at the Aviva Stadium, setting up a nervy ruckus in Wales for both countries' final match of World Cup qualification on Tuesday.

Ireland will need to win that meeting in Cardiff to ensure a runner-up spot behind Serbia in Group D. That would take Martin O'Neill's squad up to 19 points, which still might not be enough to avoid finishing with the worst second-placed record across the qualification groups. That fate would mean no battle for a place in Russia next summer via a two-legged play-off.

If Wales draws or wins in its capital city, there will be no 2018 World Cup for Ireland, and the Welsh will instead likely face a double-header. Potential opponents include Italy and Portugal.

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Much was made of Wales missing Gareth Bale over their final two qualifiers, but Ireland, stripped of Jonathan Walters and Seamus Coleman due to injury, put in a demanding performance to see off Igor Dobrovolski's visiting side.

The first tally of the qualification bout came after only two minutes. Stephen Ward's throw-in wreaked havoc in Moldova's box, inviting veteran Daryl Murphy to feed on the scraps with a smart prod home. That combination was rehashed for the second, when Ward's deep cross from the left was met by Murphy, whose looped header planted into the bottom corner.

Sceptical viewers would point to Ilie Cebanu's wobbly goalkeeping as being extremely helpful in Ireland's first-half push, but there was a confidence and greater cohesiveness to the home side that was completely lacking against Georgia and Serbia in September.

The second stanza bumbled on in a rather ponderous fashion, perhaps with half an eye on saving legs for that test in Cardiff. Without three points there, Ireland will go unrepresented for a fourth consecutive World Cup.