Steven Reid: Hopes look slim unless Germans do us a favour
When the final whistle sounded on Saturday, my immediate reaction was to hope John Delaney still had Sepp Blatter's number.
Because the reality is that, if we are going to make it out of this group now, then someone somewhere is going to have to do us a favour.
Old Sepp is unlikely to help us out, so that leaves Poland and Germany, each of whom we are relying on to beat Scotland at Hampden Park.
That is where we are now, relying on other teams. The landscape really does look that bleak.
For so long now we have been talking about must-win games. But we're using up our chances. Yet our fate is still in our hands.
Should we somehow string four wins together then we'll have a place in the top two. But can you see that happening? I can't. I'm an optimist and I'm dying to see this team qualify for France but I just can't see how we are going to beat Germany in October.
A draw is possible but, after failing to put Scotland or Poland away on our own turf, I haven't seen enough from this group of players to suggest they have what it takes to outsmart the world champions.
I read Richard Sadlier's column yesterday in The Sunday Independent and was intrigued by his suggestion that now was the time for a managerial change.
Richie and I are friends, dating back to when we were team-mates at Millwall. But I can't agree with his assessment of Martin O'Neill's reign.
For me, the manager has to stay. First, he has landed himself in a horrendous group. Scotland are on the up - miles better than the Scotland who were managed by Craig Levein, Gordon Strachan's predecessor.
And the same can be said of Poland. Throw in the fact that you have world champions Germany in there and you could only wish you were in Northern Ireland's group instead, where top seeds Greece have lost home and away to the Faroe Islands.
So even though this campaign has been full of regret and near-misses, he remains the right man for the job.
He has re-energised the team and given just how flat things had become under Giovanni Trapattoni, the scale of his task was probably greater than any of us realised.
Firstly, I can't think of anyone out there who could get more out of this group of players. And secondly, those players really need to ask serious questions about themselves.
Since O'Neill stepped in, far too few have stepped up. Take Saturday's team. Apart from Shay Given, John O'Shea, Seamus Coleman, Glenn Whelan and James McCarthy, how many have nailed down their position?
With over half the positions in the side up for grabs, we are going from game to game wondering what the best XI is.
So is O'Neill. Why else would there be seven changes from the team who lost 1-0 to Scotland to the one that drew 1-1 with Poland?
Why then would Jeff Hendrick get back in and Daryl Murphy be handed his first start?
It is because no one has taken the bull by the horns and said to O'Neill 'look at the way I am playing, I dare you to leave me out'. It's why Murphy deserved his chance. After all, he had scored 27 goals this season. He did well against England and his selection was justified on the back of what he did, setting up the goal for Jon Walters.
But really, we are at the stage where we need players to come of age. Aiden McGeady produced the goods in Georgia, O'Shea delivered in a big way against Germany, but who else has caught the eye?
So far the players have been average at best. They now have to be excellent. Otherwise we won't qualify.
The play-offs are as much as we can hope for. It can be done. We have to defeat Georgia and Gibraltar in September. And we need Germany to produce back-to-back wins over Poland and Scotland.
If they do then the world champions would arrive in Dublin in October knowing a point would pretty much guarantee qualification. You'd hope they would take their foot off the gas to some extent.
And you'd hope that Poland would beat Scotland the same night, leaving us playing in Warsaw on October 11 against a team whose qualification was secured.
You'd hope then that our players would - for the first time in a couple of generations - win a major competitive match away from home and make the play-offs.
But hope and expectation are two very different things. The road to France is a difficult one now.
Relying on other teams to do you a favour is never the best way of doing business but, unless Scotland drop points to Georgia, Germany or Poland, then I just can't see how we will move from fourth to third.
The bottom line is that we need someone to do for us what Gareth Bale has done for Wales, Kyle Lafferty for Northern Ireland and Shaun Maloney for Scotland.
We need something more. So far it has been okay. But okay is not good enough if we are to qualify.
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