Who do we want in the play-off draw and why? . . . And how much is it all worth to FAI?
Italy - Why are they in the play-offs?
They landed Spain in a group draw that gave the other sides no realistic hope of advancing. Spain took 28 points from a possible 30 while Italy collected 23. A defeat away to the Spanish in September effectively confirmed they would be runners-up. They drew at home to Macedonia last weekend so they have not exactly set the world alight this autumn
Manager: Gian Piero Ventura
The 69-year-old got his turn after a career that dates back to 1976. He managed at lower levels before graduating to Serie A and he was appointed by the Italian FA after a five-year stint with Torino. He took over from Antonio Conte after Euro 2016.
Star Man: Marco Verratti
He’s received some criticism in Italy for his national team performances but the PSG playmaker can really make a team tick when he’s on song. Verratti is just 24 years old and operates in a deep role that has inevitably led to comparisons with Andrea Pirlo. That’s a hard act to follow and they have a slightly different playing style – as Pirlo has pointed out.
Order of Preference: 4th
Switzerland - Why are they in the play-offs?
Amazingly, Switzerland have ended up in the play-offs despite winning their first nine fixtures. However, they were comprehensively beaten by Portugal last night - after shocking them earlier in their group - to lose out on goal difference. Their form line is dubious though; Hungary, Faroe Islands, Latvia and Andorra were their other opponents.
Manager: Vladimir Petkovic
The Sarajevo born 54-year-old has travelled extensively for his job and his most high-profile post was taking over as manager of Lazio in 2012. He was shown the door 18 months later when it emerged he had negotiated with Switzerland about taking over after the World Cup in Brazil. Petkovic had played and managed in the country and he’s well regarded there.
Star Player: Haris Seferovic
They have spread the goals around in the group and Seferovic – who hails from a Bosnian family – has really come to the fore in the final stretch. He signed a five year contract with Benfica in the summer and the 25-year-old attacker will be a threat.
Order of Preference: 2nd
Croatia - Why are they in the play-offs?
Group I was as tightly contested as Ireland’s group with Iceland eventually coming out on top. Croatia handed it to them, though, by drawing at home to Finland last Friday. They sacked their coach Ante Cacic after that game and a new man, Zlatko Dalic, helped them prepare for Monday’s 2-0 win against Ukraine which kept Croatia’s chances alive.
Manager: Zlatko Dalic
The 50-year-old was an extremely surprising appointment given that he has spent recent years managing in the Gulf region. He has previous international experience as an assistant coach at U-21 level but Davor Suker, the head of the Croatian Federation, is not afraid to make a bold move.
Star Player: Luka Modric
Modric is a fantastic player, a polished all-rounder who has the ability to influence an El Clasico match. Joe Allen was a key man for Wales in both of their games with Ireland. Modric is essentially a business-class version of Allen so knocking him out of his stride would be the key to any success.
Order of Preference: 3rd
Denmark - Why are they in the play-offs?
They were second seeds in a group where Romania’s presence as top seeds gave everyone encouragement. Romania ended up in fourth, 12 points off the pace. Third seeds Poland won the group relatively comfortably and Denmark and Montenegro battled it out for the play-off honours. Last month, Denmark hammered Poland 4-0 and they then knocked another four past Armenia before a crucial 1-0 success in Montenegro last Thursday. They’re hitting form.
Manager: Åge Hareide
The 64-year-old Norwegian spent five years in charge of his own country and has worked in a variety of roles around Scandinavia before landing his current job at the start of this campaign
Star Player: Christian Eriksen
He’s one of the main reasons that Spurs are challenging at the right end of the Premier League table. Denmark might be the preferred option for Ireland fans but Martin O’Neill does not have a player of Eriksen’s quality.
Order Of Preference: 1st
What is Monday's win in Cardiff worth to the FAI?
It's a welcome boost to set up another full-house at the Aviva in November. In 2015, a bumper year of important games - Poland, Scotland and Germany - which culminated with a play-off against Bosnia ended up delivering an €8m spike in match-day income. 2016 was a tougher sell with just one competitive game.
But the games with Wales, Austria, Serbia and Moldova have all attracted healthy attendances and the play-off is the icing on the cake.
The 16,000 season ticket holders quoted by Martin O'Neill have a November match already in their deal and there are existing ten-year holders too but the extra ticket sales and additional business that comes with it should net a seven-figure return. But the big prize, of course, is that is moves Ireland a step closer to Russia.
Is there a particular play-off opponent that would earn the FAI more money?
That would have been the case under the old television deals where rights for matches were sold individually by UEFA's member occasions. For example, a game with Germany was worth a significant amount because of the money their companies were prepared to pay.
However, the decision to centralise the TV deal has removed that bargaining aspect. The FAI were big supporters of it and, to be fair, it does provide security to all nations if they suffer a bad qualifying campaign or get a particularly unattractive draw. It's worth €10m a year to UEFA member nations.
What's the prize for reaching Russia?
It will not be officially confirmed until closer to the finals but making it to the 2014 tournament in Brazil earned the 32 competing nations $9.5m (€8m at the current exchange rate) and it's expected that figure will increase to somewhere in the region of $12m (around €10m). Then there are tiered rewards for progressing in that competition
How does it compare with the Euros?
The World Cup may be the biggest show of them all but UEFA's qualification prize money compares favourably. Ireland received €8m for making it to the enlarged Euro 2016 and then secured another €3m for the results that brought them to the round of 16.
What do the players get?
Negotiations would take place if Ireland made it there. Ahead of Euro 2016, players' representative Ciarán Medlar met the FAI and thrashed out a deal. It's understood the players were given a pool of €1m to share between them. They would also have been in line for a substantial cut of the performance bonuses in France.
And the management?
Martin O'Neill and his coaching staff would also have bonuses factored into their contract with the manager receiving the largest chunk. Earlier this year, the FAI confirmed that €6.5m of the €11m they earned at the Euros went towards costs including bonuses. A three-week stay in their lavish base in Versailles and the travel expenses that came with that would also have added to the bill. But a net return of €4.5m shows how an €11m jackpot can be taxed in its own way. That said, attendances at pre-tournament friendlies and other ancillary benefits can soften the blow.
Where does the rest of the money go?
The FAI is still servicing debt from its contribution to the Aviva Stadium with €34m still owed. Chief executive John Delaney has said that being debt-free by 2020 is still achievable but that would depend on decisions made by the board at the beginning of 2018. He said the FAI could decide to stretch out their repayments over a longer period thus allowing them to invest in the game in the shorter term. Naturally, a ticket to Russia would be a factor in any decision.