Sunday 22 October 2017

Northern Ireland assured of play-off place following Scotland's draw in Slovenia

Michael O'Neill's Northern Ireland are assured of a play-off berth
Michael O'Neill's Northern Ireland are assured of a play-off berth

Northern Ireland's place in the play-offs for the World Cup finals has been confirmed after Scotland drew with Slovenia.

Only eight of the nine group runners-up will make it through to next month's play-offs and Slovakia, who finished second in Group F at Scotland's expense, ended their qualification campaign with fewer adjusted points than the Northern Irish.

Confirmation of their play-off berth arrived less than an hour before Michael O'Neill's side played their final group game in Norway on Sunday.

Northern Ireland had guaranteed second spot last month with a 2-0 victory over Czech Republic but, with results against the bottom-placed sides in each group discounted in the race for the play-offs, their situation was still not resolved heading into this international break.

They began the day knowing anything other than a Scotland victory would see them make it through regardless of how they fared at the Ullevaal Stadion.

The draw for the play-offs takes place on October 17, and it will be seeded, meaning Northern Ireland's result against Norway on Sunday evening is still important if they want to potentially avoid the likes of Portugal, Italy and Wales.

Manager O'Neill stressed the significance of the Norway game when he spoke in Oslo immediately after the Scotland result.

"It was getting very tight as we saw," he said. "I expected it to be like this given that we had to play Germany and the task of trying to take something from that game.

"It was nice to know (the play-off place is confirmed) coming into the last game. The result, whilst it's unfortunate for Scotland, it's a boost for us, and we know now we're going to be in those eight positions.

"We still have a lot to play for, we have to make sure we try and win the game, try and finish as strongly as possible, keep the momentum going into the play-offs and obviously there's the ranking situation with seeds to play for as well.

"Clearly there's a sense of relief in the dressing room, they can look forward to the game and hopefully we can get the right result."

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