Monday 25 September 2017

Comment: Hard to envisage anything but heartache in Ireland's World Cup qualifying campaign

 

A dejected Shane Long of Republic of Ireland leaves the pitch after the FIFA World Cup Qualifier Group D match between Republic of Ireland and Serbia at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
A dejected Shane Long of Republic of Ireland leaves the pitch after the FIFA World Cup Qualifier Group D match between Republic of Ireland and Serbia at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile

Colin Young

Even if the Republic of Ireland win their final two qualifiers to reach second place in Group D, it may not be enough to secure a European play-off place.

One of the nine runners-up will miss out on the November two-legged showdowns and, at present, Wales and Ireland have left themselves with the biggest mountain to climb to get into that group. There are currently 30 teams, including group leaders, who could finish second in the European groups.

A league table will be drawn up 24 hours after the Wales-Ireland game in Cardiff but it will not take into account results against the country which finishes bottom of the group, which is likely to remain Moldova in Group D.

Ireland are currently in third place and can only reach 19 points, by beating Moldova in Dublin and Wales in Cardiff next month. However, stripping out the Moldova results that would leave them on 13 points.

This is the group of runners-up as it stands:

Portugal (Group B) 15 +18

Northern Ireland (C) 15 +7

Italy (G) 13 +3

Iceland (I) 13 +3

Slovakia (F) 12 +6

Sweden (A) 10 +3

Montenegro (E) 10 +3

Bosnia (H) 8 +2

Wales (D) 8 +1

With two fixtures remaining, guessing the outcome of all nine groups is near impossible. Some sides, such as Austria, have a mathematical chance of qualification but are realistically out of contention and many sides in the third and second berths must play teams at the bottom of their group, or even second from bottom, and who could still finish bottom. In fact, across the nine groups there are approximately 35 games which could still be relevant. Among those are teams who will be out of Ireland's reach.

Northern Ireland have already guaranteed second place and have 13 points from the relevant matches but they must play Germany and Norway in their final matches so could still finish on 13 points - or will it be 19, 16 or 14?

And Scotland, currently fourth in Group F, could clinch second place behind England with wins over rivals Slovenia and Slovakia which would leave them with 14 points - enough to see off Ireland. With a draw or two, the team behind Gareth Southgate's likely winners could have just 12 points. So there is hope.

Scotland's group is one of three to keep an eye on because the runners-up in that group may finish level on points with Ireland, or even behind them. Groups H and I are equally complicated and a few draws or shock results could put Martin O'Neill's side in contention.

As if things weren't complicated enough in the most mind-boggling qualification criteria in football history, Wales could go into the final game knowing that victory in Cardiff will be enough to knock out Ireland, but not enough to qualify for a play-off.

If Chris Coleman's side lose or draw in Georgia prior to meeting Ireland, they will only have eight or nine points registered in the runners-up table. And a win in the last fixture might leave them second to Serbia but it is unlikely to be enough to secure one of the eight play-off places.

Confused? You will be but hopefully someone in FIFA Towers knows what they are doing and will be able to make some sense of it when the European games are concluded.

Sunday Indo Sport

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