A CHANCE MIST; IN ASSOCIATION WITH Ahead for just three minutes in the fog.
Byline: PAUL O'HEHIR
THE BOYS IN GREEN were the Boys Unseen as dense fog descended on Zenica, but Martin O'Neill's troops emerged from the mist in a great position to qualify for Euro 2016. Robbie Brady's slick finish eight minutes from time - barely visible at the far end of the pitch in the freak conditions - sucker-punched a Bosnian team that was dominant, if wasteful, throughout. But Irish fans were crying 'for fogs sake' four minutes later as Bosnian skipper Edin Dzeko drilled a low shot past Darren Randolph to level the scores.
Ireland then held tight for the final four minutes of additional time to secure a fine result given the pressure they found themselves under.
Desperate, backs-to-the-wall defending had been the order of the night in a frantic game that always threatened to get away from the Republic, who rarely looked like scoring until Brady's late piece of magic.
But what at one stage looked like a torrid night in the making for centre-backs Ciaran Clark and Richard Keogh ended with the pair rising to the challenge and their team-mates slapping them on the back at the final whistle.
The 12,200 capacity Bilino Polje Stadium is a throwback to a bygone era but the atmosphere, amid a thick smog circling Bosnia's fourth-largest city like a blanket, was electric.
Roma star Miralem Pjanic orchestrated their best work against a hesitant Irish side that struggled to retain the ball whenever they broke forward.
And assistant manager Roy Keane was frequently irate on the touchline as the Irish gave the ball away far too easily.
Bosnia targeted the visitors' left flank where Brady and full-back Stephen Ward were battered by Edin Visca, who was very much Bosnia's danger man, and with Dzeko dropping deep the Irish pair were caught in no man's land too often. But for all their possession in danger areas Bosnia did not always take the right option.
Ireland were often on the retreat and when they did break forward, they lacked punch, with Daryl Murphy offering little up front.
By the time the second-half started a thick fog had descended and it quickly got worse with the far side of the ground almost disappearing from view.
But Bosnia powered on regardless, with Visca causing mayhem with two more crosses, the first which Clark diverted into Randolph's gut, the second which Keogh scrambled clear. It was seat of the pants defending but it worked all the same.
German referee Felix Brych was the man in charge when Ireland held Russia 0-0 in Moscow in 2011, a result which drove Ireland towards their last major tournament, and it proved to be a good omen.
O'Neill replaced Wes Hoolahan with James McClean and Marc Wilson was thrown on for Ward.
The sight of Visca being replaced was a welcome relief for defenders run ragged by his enterprising play, even though his replacement, the giant striker Milan Djuric, was another problem for Clark and Keogh to figure out.
But then, through the mist, Ireland took the lead. Brady ghosted into the box to tuck a low shot to Asmir Begovic's left.
Dzeko hit back but Ireland somehow have this tie by the scruff of the neck and all roads lead to the Aviva on Monday.
brilliant by brady Ireland's goalscorer celebrates with James McClean and Marc Wilson