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Why Ireland's Slovakia Clash Still Matters For World Cup Qualification

Why Ireland's Slovakia Clash Still Matters For World Cup Qualification
By Eoin Harrington Updated
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The Ireland women's team made a massive stride towards a maiden World Cup on Thursday night, beating Finland in Tallaght to seal a place in the play-offs for next year's tournament in Australia and New Zealand.

Vera Pauw's side entered the game against third placed Finland knowing that a win would guarantee them second place and progression to the play-offs, but Tuesday's trip to Slovakia in the final group game is still crucial to Ireland's potential qualification for the World Cup.

Why the Slovakia game still matters for Ireland's World Cup play-off

The path to the World Cup for Vera Pauw's Ireland is needlessly complicated.

The UEFA play-off system for the World Cup is divided into two rounds, with the nine group runners up ranked based on their points tallies.

The top three teams progress straight to the second round, but the bottom six are required to play a first round of head-to-head ties to progress to that second round.

Ireland are currently in fourth place in UEFA's World Cup play-off rankings, meaning they would have to play in the first round of the play-offs.

Vera Pauw's side still have one game left in their qualifying group, and that could make their route to Australia and New Zealand much easier.

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Ireland travel to Slovakia on Tuesday evening, knowing that a win will put them in the mix for automatic progression to the second round of the World Cup play-offs. Here is what needs to happen for Ireland to do that.

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How Ireland can progress to the second round of UEFA's World Cup play-offs

Here's how things stand in the runners-up rankings, as of Thursday night's qualifiers. Some groups have six teams rather than five, so only games against the top five in the group are counted for the ranking of the second-placed teams.

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Position Team Group Played Goal Difference Points
1 Belgium F 7 +24 16
2 Switzerland G 7 +17 16
3 Iceland C 6 +17 15
4 Ireland A 7 +21 14
5 Austria D 6 +20 13
6 Scotland B 7 +3 13
7 Serbia H 6 +5 12
8 Wales I 6 +7 10
9 Bosnia E 7 -8 10

Ireland are still very much in contention for the top three places, with all of the sides ahead of them facing tough closes to their group campaigns.

The easiest route will be if they can better Iceland, Austria and Serbia's results - that will guarantee Ireland a top three spot and progression to the second round of the World Cup play-offs.

That scenario is the only route by which a draw would see Ireland through to the second round - but that is somewhat unlikely, as it would require both Iceland and Austria to lose both of their final two games.

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If Ireland win in Slovakia on Tuesday, they give themselves a much better chance of progressing automatically. That would put them in contention to finish top of the pile, which they could do if Belgium lose to Norway, Switzerland lose to Croatia, and Iceland fail to win either of their last two group games, with Austria only winning one of theirs.

It's a very complicated situation, but the bottom line is this: if Ireland win in Slovakia on Tuesday, they will give themselves a massive chance of only having one more tie standing between them and the World Cup next summer in Australia and New Zealand.

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Here are all of the scenarios spelt out as simply as we could manage (it is an unnecessarily complicated setup from UEFA):

  • If Ireland win by three or fewer goals on Tuesday, they can progress to the second round of the play-offs if both Iceland and Austria fail to win either of their final two group games, and Serbia take three or fewer points from their final two group games.
  • If Ireland win by four or more goals on Tuesday, they can progress to the second round of the play-offs if Belgium fail to beat Norway, and Switzerland fail to beat Croatia. This scenario would also require results in Iceland, Austria, and Serbia's final two games each to go in Ireland's favour.
  • If Ireland draw in Slovakia on Tuesday, they can progress to the second round of the play-offs if Iceland, Austria, and Serbia do not get more points than Ireland from their final two group games each.

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