Football

A Friendly Loss For Ireland Next Month Could Have Massive Repercussions

A Friendly Loss For Ireland Next Month Could Have Massive Repercussions

We all know that the results in the Stephen Kenny era up to this point have been disappointing. There have been a number of positives to take away from the five games played over the last two months, but that has yet to translate to the scoreboard.

The Euro 2020 play-off against Slovakia aside, it could be said that the other games have been fairly meaningless in the grand scheme of things. The UEFA Nations League is an interesting concept, but a lack of success in that tournament won't necessarily concern Ireland supporters too much.

However, as we have explained before, those games are actually very important for our short-term future.

The draw for the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign will take place on November 29th, with Ireland hoping to be second seeds. To do so, they will have to be ranked in the top 20 UEFA nations in the FIFA World Rankings.

The good news is despite our poor run of results, Ireland currently sit in 20th place, even if things are very tight at the moment. When the official rankings are published tomorrow, we will be only one ranking point ahead of Slovakia in 21st position, who dropped a couple of spots despite the result in the Euro 2020 play-off.

The UEFA Nations League games against Bulgaria and Wales next month will play a big part on where Ireland sit in the rankings at the end of November, with positive results in those fixtures likely to be enough to secure a place in pot two. Two losses could see them knocked down a few spots and end up in pot three.

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Of course, there will also be a third international fixture in November.

Ireland had a slot in their calendar left open for a potential Euro 2020 play-off against Northern Ireland or Bosnia & Herzegovina, with the fixture now uncertain after the penalty shoot-out loss to Slovakia.

UEFA had assumed that the losers of the two play-off semi-finals would play against each other in a friendly on that November 12th slot, making a game against Bosnia a possibility.

However, it has now been confirmed that Ireland will instead face England in Wembley Stadium on that date, after New Zealand had pulled out of the game in London.

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This is a big decision from the FAI. As explained on the YBIG forum, even a friendly game could have a big impact on Ireland's seeding for the 2022 World Cup draw.

Considering how tight things are for that 20th spot in the UEFA rankings, a loss in a friendly next month could have major consequences for Ireland.

Losing away to England, a game in which the home side will be heavy favourites, could be hugely detrimental to Ireland's ranking.

A friendly loss against England would see Ireland lose around three ranking points, which could be enough to knock them down a couple of spots in the rankings based on results elsewhere. However, a win would give Ireland just short of seven points.

A draw would give Kenny's side a boost of just under two points.

This is something that could end up counting against them for the draw at the end of November.

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Ireland's best bet may have been to arrange a winnable friendly against lesser opposition. There was also the option of not playing a friendly game at all.

This is a route taken by many nations in the past, with the sole purpose of improving their world rankings. By not playing meaningless friendly games, they remove the possibility of losing ranking points by performing poorly in such fixtures.

Wales are perhaps the best example of this in recent times. They managed to go from bottom seeds to top seeds in UEFA qualifying in the space of four years, boosted by a clever exploitation of the ranking system.

As this article on thesetpieces.com explains, the Welsh went 17 months without playing a friendly game in 2014 and 2015, greatly boosting their world ranking in the process. Coupled this with positive results on the pitch, and Wales were top seeds for the 2018 World Cup qualifying draw.

While we are not suggesting Ireland take such a drastic approach, it is worth pointing out how friendly games can have such a big impact on rankings.

With things so tight at the moment, Ireland could have considered leaving this fixture slot blank in their calendar next month. Perhaps a game will be more beneficial for the players, but it could have the opposite effect on our world ranking.

SEE ALSO: Ireland-Linked Patrick Bamford Admits 'Dream' To Break Into England Squad

Gary Connaughton

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