We did one of these posts before the start of the qualifying campaign and everything seemed relatively simple. We looked into our crystal ball and came up with a semi-scientific average that would more than likely see Ireland qualify for Euro 2016. Then the Germany result happened and things looked even more clear cut.
Then came Glasgow and everything is looking very complicated all over again. Ireland were poor against Georgia, professional against Gibraltar, brave/lucky against Germany and very poor against Scotland. But that's not to say all semblance of hope is down the drain already. We're going to re-calculate the possible scenarios and see how Ireland can still make it through to France in 2016.
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, let's move on.
What Ireland need to do to come second:
Over the last two qualifying campaigns, the average number of points needed to come second (after results against the bottom teams are discarded) is 14. The situation posited below is the most likely way that we could still managed that.
We're going with the assumption that Germany will have their act together by October of next year and, as such, we're not going to bank on more John O'Shea heroics. That does mean that we'll need four wins from the next four games as a well as a point away to Poland on the last day of the campaign if we're to reach the magic 14.
However, that total is open to questioning. Before the beginning of the campaign you would have thought that Ireland, Scotland and Poland were relatively evenly matched and would take points off each other. That would lead you to believe that the required points for second would be lower than average. Yet the fact that Germany are also losing unexpected points has disrupted that somewhat.
With four teams seemingly capable of taking points off each other, the 28 to 30 points that we had earmarked for Germany have to be diluted down a little thus giving the second and third place teams the potential for a few extra points. We're going to guess that those two situations will cancel each other out more or less, so (give or take a point) we're sticking with 14 points being the required amount to grab second. One way or another the next two games, at home to Poland and Scotland, are going to be vital.
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. We went into the pot as second seeds so really this should have been the minimum required from Martin O'Neill's men but having appeared so forlorn in Glasgow it is now looking like a best case scenario. At the start of the campaign we suggested that 11 points (Gibraltar excluded) would be enough to grab a play-off place.
As things stand, we're going to stick with that purely to point out that the result in Glasgow isn't necessarily the end of the world.
Obviously, saying that 11 points will be enough for a play-off place is entirely dependent on the teams around us slipping up. Right now that doesn't look like it's going to be Poland. Similarly, you'd have to imagine that Germany will get their act together, so that leaves Scotland. Gordon's Strachan's men were superior in every way last Friday, but that doesn't mean they're world beaters.
There's a five month gap between now and the next fixture and a lot can happen in that time. So with all that in mind we've taken a look at Scotland's most likely results until the end of the campaign, to see how that could play into Ireland's hands.
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 in June. 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. Estonia again would be nice.