Monday 25 September 2017

Plenty of food for thought as Ireland seek second helpings

Winning remaining games no guarantee of play-off, writes Daniel McDonnell

Scotland are among the teams chasing a second-placed spot and a play-off berth. Photo: PA
Scotland are among the teams chasing a second-placed spot and a play-off berth. Photo: PA
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Martin O'Neill's Ireland face a stiff task to make next summer's World Cup in Russia. They are one point behind second-placed Wales in Group D but the added complication is that the runner-up with the lowest number of points across the nine groups misses out on a play-off.

That table is calculated by taking out results against the bottom-placed side in the group and, barring an unlikely turn of events, that will be Moldova.

Ireland have 13 points on the board at the moment. If they meet their target of six points from next month's games, they will finish with 19 but the six from Moldova will be subtracted for the play-off calculations

As it stands, there's a variety of permutations but it looks as though Ireland would be borderline even with a perfect finish.

Realistic

Ireland would finish second in Group D if Wales failed to win in Georgia next month and Ireland won at home to Moldova and drew in Cardiff. But a final points tally of 17 in that scenario (with the six from Moldova then subtracted) would almost certainly leave Ireland as bottom of the bunch.

The most realistic combination that earns Ireland a play-off (all of the below must happen) is:

(a) Ireland take full points from games with Moldova and Wales

(b) In Group H, Bosnia take no more than four points from their final two games with Belgium and Estonia to finish on 18 (-6 from two wins v Gibraltar)

(c) In the same group, Greece drop points away to neighbours Cyprus in their penultimate game. In that scenario, the maximum points they can get is 17 (-6 from two matches with Gibraltar)

(a) Ireland take full points from games with Moldova and Wales.

(b) In Group F, Scotland win at home to Slovakia on October 5, while England triumph at home to Slovenia on the same night.

(c) In the final round of fixtures on October 8, Slovenia win at home to Scotland. In that scenario, the maximum any of the potential runners-up in Group F could have with bottom seeds taken out is 12 points. Ireland would be on 13.

Conclusion

Ireland are in an extremely difficult situation and, bizarrely, the final set of games in Group H take place on the night after the Wales game.

Therefore, Ireland could have to wait for 24 hours to get absolute clarity on their situation even if they get the job done in Cardiff.

It shouldn't have come to this; victory in Georgia would have given Ireland significantly more breathing room.

Even if Ireland qualify they look extremely unlikely to be seeded after FIFA confirmed yesterday that Europe's play-off draw will be seeded in accordance with a country's ranking.

Irish Independent

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