It was the goal that saved an entire qualifying campaign. For the third time in five games, a last gasp goal has saved Ireland from battling it out with Georgia in a fight for fourth. At the start of the campaign we looked into our crystal ball and everything seemed so straight forward.
Going into the group as second seeds and with 23 places up for grabs, it seemed all was set for Ireland to be given a chance expunge the memories of Poland in 2012. Then we went to Glasgow and simply didn't show up. That threw our predictions up in the air.
The game against Poland was billed as a must win. In the aftermath of the 1-1 draw, it's been retroactively deemed a must not lose. And what do you know, we didn't lose. But what does it mean for our chances of qualifying for Euro 2016 ahead of the clash with Scotland this weekend?
As a quick reminder, the qualifying criteria is as follows:
- There's eight groups of six teams and one group of five.
- The top two from each of these go straight through to the finals. Simple so far.
- The best third placed team also qualifies but only when the results against the sixth placed teams are discarded.
- The remaining eight third-placed teams are drawn into four two-legged play-off games with the winners qualifying.
And here's how the group stands at the moment:
What Ireland need to do to come first:
Invent a time-machine. It was highly unlikely after the game in Glasgow, it's as good as impossible now.
What Ireland need to do to come second:
Having seen Poland up close and personal, you have to think this is still Germany's group to lose. We've been expecting them to click into gear since the first game of the group and it hasn't really happened. They're playing Poland at home in September and you have to think if they can turn over the Poles, there's every chance they will go on to win the group.
That would leave Poland, Ireland and Scotland battling it out for second with Martin O'Neill's men as the rank outsiders. At the start of the campaign we totted up the numbers from the past two qualifying campaigns and found that, when results against the sixth placed team were discarded, 14 points was the average needed to claim second place.
Obviously this doesn't guarantee anything. For example, Turkey qualified with 11 points in 2012 while Norway missed out with 16. However, that was very much an unlikely scenario so the 14 point mark (20 with Gibraltar included) is a good indication.
With that in mind, here's the most likely scenario that could still see the magic point total reached:
A win in Poland in October is what it will, more than likely, boil down to. Which, although difficult, is not impossible. However, as we said, Ireland are outsiders for that second spot so we'll leave that there in terms of best case scenario.
What do we need to come 3rd (and qualify)?
Given that the above scenario is so dependent on results outside our control, this is looking like the most likely route to qualification. At the start of the campaign we speculated that 11 points would be the minimum required for third. That now looks all the more likely to be the lowest total which would see us through to at least a play-off.
Here's the most likely way we'd hit that 11 point mark.
If we say Germany will come first with Poland second, that leaves Scotland as our main rivals. That final Polish game in Poland is going to be crucial, provided we beat Scotland in Dublin of course. The above scenario is the very minimum needed so we've gone with two losses in October. A point in Poland could be required depending on how Scotland do.
We've taken a look at their games as well. The most likely scenario for Gordon Strachan's men could see some nail biting totting up come October.
So that’s 11 points for Scotland as well. According to the UEFA website, the criteria for separating teams that finish level on points is as follows:
a. higher number of points obtained in the group matches played among the
teams in question;
b. superior goal difference from the group matches played among the teams in
c. higher number of goals scored in the group matches played among the teams
d. higher number of goals scored away from home in the group matches played
among the teams in question;
What that means is that (if we do finish level with Scotland) we will probably have to beat them by two goals at the Aviva on Saturday. If all of this highly speculative crystal gazing does come through, it’s unlikely 11 points will see us directly into the draw as the best third placed team so that will mean it’s another play-off draw.
With teams such as Belgium and the Netherlands currently occupying third place in their groups, another Estonia situation is unlikely. However, we're not out of things just yet but one way or another, the Scotland clash at the Aviva is going to be crucial.