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Who Do We Want? Reviewing The Form Of Ireland's Potential Playoff Opponents

Who Do We Want? Reviewing The Form Of Ireland's Potential Playoff Opponents
By Mikey Traynor
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There's not long to go until we find out which of the four seeded nations we can face int he qualification playoff to reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

While ahead of the playoff for Euro 2016 there were certain nations that were far more favourable to draw than others, this time around there are certainly no easy games as all four potenital opponents have earned results over the campaign to prove that they belong at the World Cup should they manage to reach it.

We've taken a look back over the qualification campaigns of Switzerland, Croatia, Italy, and Denmark, to pinpoint how they ended up in the playoffs and who we should be worried about if we draw them.

While the players will rightly have no preference, the fans will feel differently, so after looking at each opponent on their merits (hat-tip to Johnny Giles), who do you want to see drawn with Ireland?


Qualification form: Deceptive (27 points)

With 9 wins out of 10, no UEFA nation has ever failed to reach a World Cup after taking 27 points in qualification, but Switzerland faced very little in terms of a challenge apart from group winners Portugal. You have to go out and win your games, and fair play to them for doing so, but Hungary, Latvia, and the Faroe Islands had very poor campaigns so it does look more worrying for potential opponents than it actually is.

Best qualifying result: Switzerland 2-0 Portugal


An early win over Portugal saw them lead the group until the very final game and also proved that they can show up and deliver on the big occasion.

Worst qualifying result: Portugal 2-0 Switzerland

The only match they didn't manage to win, Portugal outclassed them to reach the group stages of the 2018 World Cup although there were a few wobbly performances from the Swiss along the way such as a 2-1 win away in Andorra.


Top scorer in qualifying: Haris Seferovic (4 goals)

The Benfica striker top scored with four goals as the focal point of the Swiss attack, the next highest scorer was captain Stephan Lichtsteiner who bagged three goals from right-back.

Biggest threat to Ireland: Attacking fullbacks.


The likes of Seferovic, Admir Mehmedi, Stoke's Xherdan Shaqiri and Arsenal's Granit Xhaka could all have been featured here as they have the individual quality to pop up at any moment to turn a game, but Switzerland's attacking full-backs are a danger to any side and can make things very difficult.

Stephan Lichsteiner of Juventus scored three times over the campaign, and AC Milan's Ricardo Rodriguez has outstanding quality from set-pieces as well as crossing from out wide and shooting from range. Our wide midfielders would need to be switched on for 180 minutes as both players are quality footballers capable of overlapping or coming inside to link the play.

Last meeting vs Ireland: Ireland 1-0 Switzerland (March, 2016)


A pre-Euro 2016 friendly in which the Swiss never got into their stride in Dublin and an early goal from Ciaran Clark was enough for a home win.


Qualification form: Strong (20 points)

Croatia had a number of nervy performances but managed to get the result more often than not, thanks largely to their incredible stingy defence that allowed just 4 goals against in a 10-match campaign.


As favourites to top the group going in, Croatia will have been disappointed to finish second but, in a tricky group also featuring Ukraine and Turkey, it came down to a loss away to Iceland and a costly draw at home to Finland.

Squad harmony never seems to be quite right and there is a lot of unrest among the fans, but Croatia have enough quality in all areas to beat any side on their day and will be a very tough task for whoever draws them.

Best qualifying result: Croatia 2-0 Iceland


A result that looked like it would win them the group, a last minute goal in the reverse fixture undid what was otherwise a strong result at home against the side that would eventually finish first.

Worst qualifying result: Croatia 1-1 Finland

Finland proved to be a very tricky Pot 5 team in the group, and they managed to steal a point with a late equaliser in Rijeka last month. 50% of the goals they conceded came in the 90th minute or later, although that is only two.

Top scorer in qualifying: Mario Mandzukic (5 goals)

The Juventus striker is exactly the type of striker that no Irish fan wants to face as he is dangerous in the air and physical enough to look after himself, but also has excellent quality with the ball on the deck too. Has hurt us before, lest we forget Euro 2012.

Biggest threat to Ireland: Luka Modric

No surprises here. Croatia have arguably the finest midfielder in the world conducting the orchestra from midfield and considering how we have struggled badly to gain a foothold in the midfield during many of our qualifiers, it's hard to imagine keeping him totally quiet over two legs.


Ivan Perisic, Ivan Rakitic, and Marcelo Brozović are also obviously massive threats.

Last meeting vs Ireland: Ireland 1-3 Croatia (June, 2012)

Took the air out of our major tournament balloons by comfortably dealing with our "direct" play and claimed a fully deserved win thanks to a brace from Mandzukic.


Qualification form: Decent (23 points)

Like Switzerland, this was certainly a good campaign but considering there was only one real challenge in the group it's difficult to praise their performances too much.

Spain proved to be too much to catch but the Italians were rarely troubled elsewhere and after the 3-0 loss to the group winners it was as if they secured second place on auto-pilot.

Best qualifying result: Italy 1-1 Spain

It took a late De Rossi penalty to secure the point but after being outplayed in the reverse fixture this result was about proving that there is no huge gulf in class between themselves and Spain.

Worst qualifying result: Italy 1-1 Macedonia

If the above result proved that they can mix it with the best, then a draw at home to Macedonia served as a reminder that they can be caught on the hop by a plucky underdog.

Top scorer in qualifying: Ciro Immobile (6 goals)

The Lazio man is a ruthless finisher and rarely gives the opposition defenders a moment of rest as he lives off the back shoulder and makes very intelligent runs.

Biggest threat to Ireland: Andrea Belotti

Big, strong, quick, two-feet, aerial prowess, lethal finishing... Belotti is a complete package and his partnership with Immobile up front would cause headaches for any defence in international football.

Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi are also terrific players capable of turning a game, but Belotti is the one who would worry us the most for his ability to score from anywhere in any situation.

Last meeting vs Ireland: Italy 0-1 Ireland (June, 2016)

Unfortunately, Simone Zaza and Salvatore Sirigu will not be on the pitch if we draw them in the playoff, but Robbie Brady will...


Qualification form: Strong (20 points)

Denmark would have been very upset had they not finished in the top two of their group with the likes of Montenegro, Armenia and Romania the only threats outside of group favourites Poland, but they still got the job done with time to spare and scored an impressive 20 goals in the process while conceding just 8.

Best qualifying result: Denmark 4-0 Poland

That result alone commands respect, as they comfortably beat the top seeds in the group and a side that very rarely get beaten by any sort of convincing margin.

Worst qualifying result: Denmark 0-1 Montenegro

The Danes were beaten on their own patch by Montenegro which allowed Poland the chance to gain ground, and showed that while they can pull off a great result, they are also prone to some questionable performances when they are the favoured side.

Top scorer in qualifying: Christian Eriksen (8 goals)

We know all about the Spurs man as he has simply oozed class week-in, week-out in the Premier League over the past two seasons and the start of this campaign. 8 goals from attacking midfield is a sensational return for anyone.

Biggest threat to Ireland: Christian Eriksen

Obviously we can't ignore their other threats but Eriksen is the heartbeat of this team and everything that they do well goes through him. His set-pieces and eye for a pass are as close to perfect as you'll find in the UEFA qualifiers.

Last meeting vs Ireland: Denmark 0-4 Ireland (August, 2007)

Not much we can read into this one as it's over 10 years since we claimed a surprisingly big win over a Danish side that featured Jon Dahl Tomasson and Jesper Gronkjaer.

We will find out who we play on Tuesday afternoon, with the draw starting at 1pm Irish time.

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