SportSoccer

Walters relishing chance to set Euro finals record straight

Walters ready for another crack at a Euro finals
Walters ready for another crack at a Euro finals

Republic of Ireland hero Jonathan Walters is relishing the prospect of a trip to the Euro 2016 finals and aims to make up for the misery of his last appearance in a major finals.

Walters' double against Bosnia-Herzegovina at the Aviva Stadium on Monday evening secured a 2-0 second leg victory and handed Martin O'Neill's men a 3-1 aggregate success.

In the process, it secured a trip to France next summer and an opportunity to improve upon a bitterly disappointing showing at Euro 2012 in Poland, from which the Republic emerged without a single point after being drawn in a tough group against eventual finalists Spain and Italy as well as Croatia.

Walters, a veteran of that campaign, said: "We had Spain and Italy and Croatia, so it was some group. But yes, to have had that and now have the chance to play on that stage again... We missed out on the World Cup the last time, so it's sweet.

"This is everything, it's what we have played for for the last two years. There have been difficult times and ups and downs, but we got there in the end."

It has proved an eventful campaign for Ireland, whose hopes of qualification were dealt early blows by defeat in Scotland and a home draw with Poland.

Indeed, when they failed to beat the Scots in Dublin on June 13, many commentators believed their chances of even snatching the Group D play-off spot had gone.

Walters admitted: "A few people were saying that after the game, a few Scottish players, so it's nice to put that right. There are always going to be ups and downs in a qualifying campaign, we have said that, and you have got to deal with the lows.

"It's never going to be a straight line to qualification. We have done it the hard way, but we have got there."

Victories over minnows Gibraltar and then Georgia in September were imperative if the Republic were to keep their hopes alive, but it was the stunning 1-0 win against world champions Germany last month which barged the door open once again.

Bosnia stood between Ireland and their dreams, but Friday night's 1-1 draw in Zenica, laid the foundation for Monday night and Walters' coolly-taken 24th-minute penalty and sweet volley 20 minutes from time did the trick.

The 32-year-old, who was suspended for the first leg, said: "Obviously I got the two goals, but it's not about one man, it's not about me. There were some excellent performances all over the pitch tonight, and in other games.

"If I'm lucky enough to play I'll always put a shift in and always try to get myself into the right position to score, and it's come off."

Walters opened the scoring after defender Ervin Zukanovic had been harshly adjudged to have handled Daryl Murphy's cross, and that presented him with a challenge as he went head-to-head with former team-mate Asmir Begovic from 12 yards.

The striker said: "You have just got to hit the target and hope for the best. If keepers don't guess the right way, they make it look really good.

"I probably double-bluffed him because he's seen a few penalties recently I've hit to the other side - I know he watches them - so it was just head down, hit the target and hope for the best.

"Someone had a little kick at the penalty-spot as well - I could hear behind in my ear just as I was about to take it - but you have got to be mentally strong, and I will always put my hand up when the penalty is there."