IT is more than a bit presumptuous for Giovanni Trapattoni or anyone else to think that next March will be a high noon face-off between Sweden and Ireland for the runners-up position in Group D.
The midweek defeat by Greece was the fifth against higher-ranked European nations in five attempts since the start of June.
Sweden are currently ranked 10 places higher than Ireland and Trapattoni hasn't managed a competitive win against a better ranked nation. Go figure.
From the moment the group was drawn, Germany were anointed with the top spot because everyone felt that they deserved it. Events at the Aviva Stadium six weeks ago underlined the point.
Before and even after that awful night, there was a general acceptance that Ireland would climb into the ring with Sweden and Austria for a last-man standing fight for second place next March.
Nobody considered the possibility that Sweden had a very different plan until they launched that astonishing comeback in Berlin a month ago.
On Wednesday night, they shredded Roy Hodgson's very young England and continued a great run of form since Euro 2012.
Zlatlan Ibrahimovic is playing like he means it again and they took a point off the Germans in Germany to go with six won in Stockholm against Kazakhstan and the Faroes in Torshavn.
In short, Germany and Sweden are perfectly placed to carve up the group between them and neither Ireland nor Austria have shown any sign that they are capable of stopping them.
But Trapattoni ploughs on. The last three weeks have been about winning back support and window dressing. He's been following the FAI's suggestions.
When Trapattoni spoke about Sweden yesterday and the prospects for positive results in March, it was if the destruction of his system and his team in Poland in front of a global audience had never happened.
He blithely dismissed any suggestion of regret for the fact that he consistently refused to consider talented young players while he pursued ranking points and qualification and is now coping with the consequences.
He has already parked the fact that, to date, the Brazil campaign has opened with two of the worst performances on his or any Ireland manager's watch and, a week ago, a senior figure within the FAI tried to push him out of his job.
With a straight face, he talked about the young players and how good they were against Greece and then reaffirmed the primacy of his system.
Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy and Wes Hoolahan are great but he won't be changing anything for Stockholm or indeed until hell acquires a slick of ice.
It's a surprise that we're surprised by this any more, but it was still terribly depressing to hear Trapattoni parrot the same old garbled lines.
By his standard, this was a reasonably coherent press conference but he never once answered a question.
He continues to resist a straight translation from Italian so that everyone knows what he is talking about. That should be a basic requirement of any international manager.
It shouldn't be a suggestion from the FAI, it should be an instruction. It is absolutely ridiculous that at best, a third of what he says is intelligible and that is after it has been filtered through a translator.
As each answer is sifted for consecutive words and conclusions reached about what he meant, the chance to pull him up on glaring inaccuracies and evasions is gone.
Just one example. Circumstances have forced him to acknowledge Coleman's ability. The whole of Ireland 'discovered' him long before Trapattoni did, yet both he and Tardelli have been taking credit for it all week.
To pose a question along those lines would be utterly pointless. So we grapple again and again with his stream of consciousness and this time, distilled from it that he is really happy with Coleman and that McCarthy has a chance of figuring against Sweden.
He is really happy with Hoolahan but he has no chance of starting against Sweden although he is a new 'option'.
McCarthy is pushing hard to start in every game now but would anyone be amazed if Ireland line out with Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews in midfield in four months' time? He almost said as much, though you can never be sure.
Would anyone bet any money on Trapattoni maintaining even a half-hearted patrol of Premier League grounds over the coming weeks?
And why does it have to be a weekend thing anyway?
What's wrong with Monday night, or Tuesday or any evening there's a game on and an Irish player to scout.
Why should Ireland settle for a part-time manager earning full-time wages, especially after a series of results which should have made him blush.
But not a bit of it.
He's doing a good job and, according to Tardelli, we've just had a fantastic year.
Not for the first time, there's the sense that Trapattoni and Tardelli are chortling away over their grappa.
They must have thought the gig was up last month, but they're hanging in there and still doing it Trapattoni's way while the phantom leaker quietly seethes.