Has the death knell sounded on Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for World Cup 2018 in Russia next summer?
Given the mood inside the Aviva Stadium in the closing minutes of the Emerald Isle’s 0-1 defeat to Serbia early in September you might have assumed so, but the fact remains that there is still an awful lot of football still to be played in Group D.
With two rounds of games to go, the Serbians have forged ahead on 18 points, but their remaining games – Austria away and Georgia at home – are by no means a walk in the park. The Austrians possess plenty of quality, while Georgia have lost just one of their four away ties in this qualification campaign.
In the ninth round of fixtures, Ireland host Moldova as Wales travel to Georgia – and that’s not an easy day at the office for the Welsh, that’s for sure.
And then, of course, the final encounter in the group sees Ireland and Wales clash in Cardiff in what is likely to be as nervy a ‘six pointer’ as you could ever wish to see.
Here are the permutations that could still unfold in Group D:
- If Serbia lose their final two games, then Ireland or Wales could still finish top by winning both of their remaining fixtures.
- If Serbia claim one point from their last two games, they are assured a play-off place at least unless Ireland turn around a -7 goal difference.
- If Serbia take two or more points from their remaining games, they are guaranteed a play-off place at worse.
Okay, so that’s the favourites Serbia taken care of. Let’s assume they get the job done and claim enough points to win the group outright. That leaves Ireland and Wales duking it out for the play-off place.
If Ireland and Wales both win their Week 9 fixture, then the clash at the Cardiff City Stadium on October 9 is a straight shootout to see who finishes second in Group D.
If Ireland win their Week 9 game and Wales draw or lose, then they would only need to avoid defeat in Cardiff to secure second place in the group.
So as you can see, there is every reason to be positive!
Nine Could Be Just Fine for O’Neill’s Boys
The ninth and penultimate set of fixtures will ultimately dictate the final standings in Group D, and while Serbia face a tough old test in Austria we have to assume they will claim the points they need there or against Georgia in Week 10 to confirm top spot.
The truth is that Ireland and Wales are battling it out for second place, and the fixtures on October 6 will determine who has one final chance of qualification and who will taste bitter disappointment.
Ireland host Moldova on that particular Friday night, and if they can’t claim three points there then they really don’t deserve to be on the plane to Russia.
The Moldovans have taken 2/24 available points in qualifying, and both of those came against Georgia. Otherwise they have lost their six matches against the better sides in the table, and their overall goal difference of -16 from eight matches speaks volumes of their credentials. Quite simply, they must be beaten.
Goal difference is highly unlikely to be a factor but you just never know, so let’s hope Martin O’Neill sends his troops onto the Dublin turf in positive fashion and allows them to express themselves.
The beauty of the fixture list is that Ireland, who kick off at 7:45pm, will know exactly what they need to do against Moldova as Wales’ clash with Georgia gets underway at 5pm.
As the Irish themselves know following their 1-1 draw, Georgia is not the easiest of trips to make. In recent times they have beaten Scotland on home soil, and the only nations to meter out defeat of late upon the Georgians in front of their own supporters have been Serbia and Austria, so the pressure is on Wales to take care of business in Tbilisi. All in all, the hosts have lost just three of their last ten outings on their own patch.
In all probability, it will come down to the final game in Cardiff, and what a fitting stage that will be for an all-or-nothing contest. Fun fact: Wales have only beaten the Republic of Ireland once in their last ten head-to-head meetings. Let’s hope history repeats itself on October 9!