Walters scores twice, leads Ireland by Bosnia-Herzegovina to Euro 2016
DUBLIN (AP) — Ireland qualified for next year's European Championship on Monday as Jonathan Walters returned from suspension to score both goals in a 2-0 victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina and secure a 3-1 aggregate win in their playoff.
Walters converted a penalty in the 24th minute after Ervin Zukanovic was harshly adjudged to have handled Daryl Murphy's cross.
The Stoke forward all but confirmed Ireland's ticket to France with his second goal 20 minutes from full time to set off celebrations at the Aviva Stadium, as well as taking his tally to five goals in his past six qualifying matches.
"Walters is top of the lot. He has been sensational," Ireland coach Martin O'Neill said.
It will be Ireland's second consecutive European Championship, while Bosnia also lost in the playoffs for Euro 2012 and the 2010 World Cup.
"Obviously I'm delighted for the nation, we will have a big following in France as befits the occasion, fans always turn out in great numbers, they were magnificent here tonight, they kept us going," O'Neill said. "The last 15 minutes in the game were a long time.
"Mostly I'm delighted for the players, they have been absolutely fantastic, and if they hold in me in any sort of regard, it's minuscule by comparison to the esteem I hold them in."
There was a minute of silence before the match in honor of the 129 people killed and 350 wounded in Friday's attacks in Paris.
Ireland made just one change from Friday's 1-1 draw, with Walters coming in for left back Stephen Ward, while there were three changes for the visitors with Ognjen Vranjes, Sead Kolasinac and Haris Medunjanin replacing Mensur Mujdza, Toni Sunjic and Vedad Ibisevic.
Bosnia has never qualified for the Euros while Ireland was unbeaten in its past six competitive matches at the Aviva Stadium and had the advantage of an away goal from the first leg.
However, Ireland was not content to sit back and defend and almost took an early lead but Bosnia goalkeeper Asmir Begovic got down well at his near post to block Robbie Brady's cross.
The game was much more flowing than the first leg and Ireland had to weather a sustained period of Bosnia pressure before breaking the deadlock.
Murphy crossed from the right side of the penalty area and the ball flashed off Zukanovic's arm from point-blank range, with the Bosnia defender clearly trying to pull his arm to his chest to avoid handling it.
Walters rolled the penalty into the bottom left corner, sending former Stoke teammate Begovic the wrong way.
Edin Dzeko almost immediately leveled as Bosnia threw men forward in search of the equalizer but shot into the sidenetting.
Bosnia came out with renewed intent in the second half and Medunjanin's free kick was deflected just over the bar five minutes after the break. Moments later Edin Visca ran onto a through ball and cut back to Senad Lulic, who miskicked in front of goal.
Bosnia's hopes were all but ended in the 70th when Vranjes could only help Brady's free kick toward the far post, where Walters was on hand to volley home.
Substitute Ibisevic hooked an effort off the bar from close range deep in stoppage time, moments before the referee blew the final whistle and the Aviva Stadium erupted.