Sunday 4 December 2016

Where do Ireland stand in Euro 2016 race?

Published 09/09/2015 | 02:30

James McCarthy tries to evade Georgia's Jaba Kankava
James McCarthy tries to evade Georgia's Jaba Kankava

What are the permutations heading into next month?

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Ireland are in third place - four clear of Scotland, who will definitely beat Gibraltar in their last game. If the Scots finish level with Ireland, they will advance because of the head-to-head record. Therefore, Ireland must ensure their return from Germany (home) and Poland (away) matches the points total Scotland get from the visit of Poland.

What if Scotland lose to Poland?

Then Ireland are assured of third place regardless of what happens in their final two matches.

Can Ireland finish second and qualify automatically?

Yes. If Scotland draw with Poland, then even if Ireland lose to Germany, they will go to Warsaw on the last day knowing that a win will secure second spot. But the flip side of that scenario is that a defeat in Poland would mean Ireland finishing fourth.

What is Germany's position coming to Dublin?

They need a point to book their place.

So what is the best case scenario?

A win over Germany would be tremendous but, realistically, a draw there and a draw between Scotland and Poland would leave O'Neill's men in a tremendous position. Third place would be assured and they'd go to Warsaw three points off Poland with a free shot at glory.

How are the play-offs shaping up?

With the expansion of the Euros to 24 teams, the calibre of opposition is below what you might expect if this was a World Cup qualification battle. Still, the struggles of nations such as Holland, Russia and Croatia mean they could end up in the draw. In fact, the Dutch are relying on favours to avoid missing out completely.

Would Ireland be seeded if they ended up in a play-off?

It is impossible to say with certainty at this juncture. UEFA use their own co-efficient system to calculate seedings for the European Championships; FIFA's world rankings count for nothing. This is calculated by virtue of results in the last three qualifying tournaments: 40pc from this campaign, 40pc from the World Cup 2014 qualifying and 20pc from Euro 2012.

To put the difference between the systems in context, Ireland have a better co-efficient than Wales - despite the fact that FIFA rate Chris Coleman's side as 9th in the world with Ireland 51st.

Who are the potential opponents?

Ultimately, certainty on the seedings issue is required to really seriously go down this road. Groups A and I could be crucial for Ireland; if Turkey stay third ahead of Holland in A and Denmark hold onto second ahead of Albania in I then O'Neill's men should be seeded. This would put the likes of Israel and Estonia/Slovenia as prospective opponents. The glass half empty view is that if those groups go against Ireland then Holland, Denmark and Russia/Sweden loom into sight.

So what's the conclusion?

Looking ahead is good fun but it's also tempting fate. If Scotland perform against the Poles, Ireland have serious work to do before they can even think about a November play-off.

Irish Independent

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