The permutations for World Cup 2018 qualification are coming to a head as the campaign reaches its conclusion.
While Ireland need to defeat Wales away on Monday to stand any chance of qualifying for next summer’s Moscow extravaganza, Chris Coleman’s side aren’t the only obstacle to progress. Matters elsewhere across Europe, particularly in Groups F and I where Scotland and Slovenia, and Ukraine and Croatia are concerned, could still dictate whether Ireland finish in the top eight of the much vaunted ‘runners-up table’.
For now, however, Group H holds the potential key to a guaranteed play-off.
Bosnia-Herzegovina had the opportunity to go level with Wales, Croatia and Scotland in the table on Saturday, but a remarkable defeat to table-toppers Belgium by a thrilling 4-3 scoreline has gone a long way towards setting up the do-or-die battle at Cardiff City Stadium on Monday.
Bosnia can now only muster eleven points in total (once the two wins over bottom side Gibraltar are subtracted), whereas Ireland would finish with 13 points should they beat Wales, thus relegating the Bosnians to the wooden spoon of ninth place as above.
A caveat, however, is the game on Saturday between third-placed Greece and Cyprus in fifth. Greece could still finish level with Ireland on 13 points if they defeat Cyprus and Gibraltar (whose losses don’t contribute to the above table). Should they draw or lose to their neighbours, the Greeks will be unable to match Ireland’s potential points total.
If Greece win in Nicosia, their revised goal difference of plus three or over would put them over Ireland’s current plus one difference – therefore a comprehensive win over Wales would be required to usurp them in the table.