Who might Ireland face if they reach the Euro 2016 play-offs?
After the moderately thrilling heroics in securing wins against Gibraltar and Georgia over the last few days, the Republic of Ireland can dare to dream of snaring a place in the Euro 2016 finals all over again.
While wins against Germany and Poland next month would see O’Neill’s Boys In Green march triumphantly into the Euro 2016 finals without the need of a play-off, the more realistic target must be a third place finish and the passage to the play-offs in November.
The challenges that could lie in wait there are yet to be finalised, but Ireland are one of several teams pushing for a seeded spot in the draw that will take place on October 18th.
One team that finishes third in their qualifying group will progress automatically to the Euro 2016 finals, but as Ireland look unlikely to seal that spot, nailing down a top seeding berth for the play-offs would be the next prize on O’Neill’s horizon.
UEFA will seed teams based on their complex co-efficient ranking system that will be updated after the final round of Euro 2016 qualifiers and with Ireland currently positioned at No.22 in those rankings.
If the current configuration of the Euro 2016 qualifying groups remained in place, Ireland would secure the final top seeded position in the draw next month, with these eight nations currently joining Ireland in the play-off mix with two games left to play.
Player to watch: Yevhen Konoplyanka (Sevilla)
UEFA ranking: 12
Perched in third spot in Group C behind Spain and Slovakia, Ukraine would represent a tough nut for O’Neill’s Ireland to crack, but they are currently in pole position to claim the sole automatic play-off spot for the best third place finisher in the qualifying phase
Especially strong on home soil, the side led by coach Mykhaylo Fomenko drew 0-0 with Slovakia on Tuesday night in a game that could have cracked open the door to their push for automatic qualification once again. A final qualifier against Spain could decide their fate.
Player to watch: Luka Modric (Real Madrid)
UEFA ranking: 14
The Croats are still firmly in contention for an automatic qualifying spot in Group H despite a defeat against Norway on Sunday. They are also in the mix to finish as the best third place team in qualifying with two games left to play.
Modric and his compatriots need to beat Bulgaria in their next game on home soil to keep their hopes of a top two finish alive and they should finish with a win against the minnows of Malta.
Player to watch: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
UEFA ranking: 17
The unpredictable nature of the qualifying for Euro 2016 continued on Tuesday night as Austria record an emphatic 4-1 win in Solna to confirm their march to the finals in France would continue in impressive fashion.
It means Ibrahomovic and his Swedish team-mates may be in the pot for a play-off, as they look forward to their last qualifiers against Liechtenstein and Moldova. Russia are the other side that could be set for qualifying overtime in a competitive Group G.
Player to watch: Zoltan Gera (Ferencvaros)
UEFA ranking: 20
The Hungarians spurned a glorious chance to force their way back into contention for automatic qualification for the Euro 2016 finals when they failed to see off ten-man Northern Ireland in Belfast on Monday night.
Games against the Faroe Islands and Greece to finish their Group F programme should ensure they secure a play-off berth at the very least.
Player to watch: Arda Turan (Barcelona)
UEFA ranking: 26
The stand-out result from this round of Euro 2016 qualifying fixtures had to be Turkey’s 3-0 routing of a bedraggled Holland side in Konya last Sunday.
It was an outcome that leaves Turkey in pole position to claim third spot in Group A, but face tricky games against the already qualified duo of the Czech Republic and Iceland to finish their qualifying programme.
Player to watch: Tal Ben Haim (Maccabi Tel Aviv)
UEFA ranking: 27
A battling draw against Wales in Cardiff on Sunday confirmed that Israel are capable of making life difficult for opponents with their well-organised and compact team set-up.
Oozing with experienced performers who know how to grind out results on the international stage, a maiden qualification for Israel would be a huge moment for the nation’s soccer team.
Player to watch: Robert Beric (Saint-Etienne)
UEFA ranking: 28
Slovenia secured a tight 1-0 win against Estonia on Tuesday night to establish their grip on third spot in a group that has been dominated by England from the off.
Qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa, they have given the English team their two most difficult tests in Group E, despite finishing up on the losing side on both occasions.
Player to watch: Hamdi Salihi (Skenderbeu Korce)
UEFA ranking: 32
A seeded position for Ireland could open the door to games against sides such as Albania, who are already assured of a top three finish in Group I.
In fact, we should all be cheering on Albania in their final group games against Serbia and Armenia are they have a chance to ease Ireland towards a seeded position if they are in the play-off mix next month.
EURO 2016 PLAY-OFF SEEDINGS IF THE SAME TEAMS REMAINED IN THEIR CURRENT POSITIONS
Ukraine (qualify automatically as best third place team)
Top seeds: Croatia, Sweden, Hungary, Republic of Ireland
Unseeded: Turkey, Israel, Slovenia, Albania