The Republic of Ireland set out on a massive week for Irish football that will decide whether or not we will be heading in our thousands to Russia for next summer’s World Cup.
Martin O’Neill’s men have not performed in 2017 and should they miss out on yet another World Cup then they only have themselves to blame. However, the play-offs remain an option and not all hope is lost just yet.
The group started with a well-earned point in Serbia followed by a home win over Georgia. The dream really looked possible when the Boys in Green recorded two more wins away in Moldova and in Austria.
Christmas came and went and then, in March, the Welsh came to town in what was the most eagerly awaited game of the group. It failed to live up to its billing and ended with a disappointing draw at home, but even more disappointingly captain Seamus Coleman had his leg broken by a horrific tackle from Aston Villa defender Neil Taylor.
Coleman’s campaign was over and in truth probably Ireland’s was too without their inspirational leader.
That result at home to Wales was followed up with another draw at home to Austria in June. September saw two more points dropped in Georgia despite taking an early lead and O’Neill’s men handed Serbia control of the group when they came to the Aviva and left with all three points days later.
Ireland’s form in 2017 has left their hopes of qualifying for their first World Cup in 16 years, hanging by a thread.
As Ireland prepare to face Moldova on Friday and Wales in a massive showdown next Monday, even that might not be enough. O’Neill and Keane will be looking for favours from other nations while trying to do their own job.
If Belgium can stop Bosnia from winning their qualifier next Saturday and Greece drop points to Cyprus on the same evening, then a six-point finish for Ireland would be enough to avoid being eliminated from the play-off process as the worst second placed team.
Group F could also be crucial with Ireland needing England to continue winning and beat Slovenia. While the Scots can also help our case by defeating Slovakia followed by a defeat in Slovenia on Sunday.
There are nine qualifying groups and only eight places in the play-offs. FIFA rules state the runner-up with the lowest points total will be eliminated. Results against each group’s worst side are discounted.
This means Ireland will finish on 13 points should they win their remaining two games and the wins over Moldova, as the team at the bottom of the group will be scrapped.
All eyes will be on Group H where Bosnia and Greece’s results could be key to our hopes. Bosnia will not be able to get more than 12 points if they fail to win on Saturday against the already qualified Belgians.
While a draw between Greece and Cyprus will do the Irish a favour.
However, Ireland must first do their own job this week and only then can we hope other results have fallen in our favour and we can head for the play-offs, the same route we took to Japan & South Korea in 2002.
Damien McEvoy Pundit Arena