Sport European Championships

Sunday 17 December 2017

Irish unlikely to be seeded in play-offs

Results across the continent have not went in Martin O'Neill's favour
Results across the continent have not went in Martin O'Neill's favour

Kevin Palmer and John Fallon

It wasn't just the despair of the 2-1 defeat in Poland that handed a major blow to Ireland's hopes of a place at Euro 2016 - as results across the continent in recent days have conspired against Martin O'Neill's team as they look ahead to the play-off draw next Sunday.

Ireland looked to be on course to be seeded in the play-offs heading into the final two rounds of matches, but results have ensured that Ireland could now be ranked sixth among the eight teams who will battle it out for the final four qualifying places up for grabs.

That will mean Ireland will not be seeded when UEFA draw the pairings for the play-offs, though the official UEFA rankings will not be confirmed until the final two nights of matches are played.

As it stands right now, these are the teams who are set to be in the play-off mix (UEFA ranking in brackets):

Ukraine (9)

Croatia (13)

Bosnia (14)

Sweden (18)

Denmark (20)

Ireland (21)

Turkey (25)

Slovenia (28)

Among the results that have affected the rankings in recent days, Israel's shock defeat at home to Cyprus on Saturday night and Bosnia's success in beating Wales were outcomes that were a blow to Ireland's hopes.

Sweden's third-place finish in Group I was another setback for Ireland, with Albania's success in sealing automatic qualification ensuring a team that would have been ranked below us in the play-off draw were taken out of that equation.

Holland could yet be high-profile play-off rivals for Ireland if they can beat the Czech Republic tomorrow night and Turkey lose at home to Iceland, yet the Turks must be favourites to seal third spot in Group A after a troubled qualifying campaign to the Dutch.

Plenty of eyes will be on Spain's trip to Ukraine tonight, with the defending champions looking to deny their hosts automatic qualification that would ensure they are thrown into the play-off mix. If Ukraine were to slip up against Spain, Slovakia could be confirmed as the second team to qualify from Group C.

There could also be a final twist in Group H, with Norway heading to Italy tomorrow needing a result to secure the second automatic qualifying berth, with Croatia keen to beat Malta to give themselves a chance of second spot.

Norway are currently ranked below Ireland by UEFA's ranking system, but not even a slip from the Scandinavians would appear to be enough to propel Ireland into a seeded berth.

The best third-place berth is likely to go to Hungary but could be Ukraine or Croatia.

The draw for the play-offs will be held next Sunday in Nyon at 10.15Irish time. The eight teams will be divided in two sections, with the first legs to be played from November 12-14 and second legs on November 15-17. Seeded teams are not guaranteed to have home advantage in the second leg.

Already qualified

France (hosts), Wales, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, Portugal, Iceland, Czech Republic, England, Austria, Germany, Poland, Portugal and Armenia.

Irish Independent

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