Ireland’s odds of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia may have taken a significant blow in the past seven days, but Martin O’Neill’s men can still qualify for next summer’s tournament.
The boys in green will most likely need to win both of their remaining games – at home to Moldova and away to Wales – to secure second place in Group D, after disappointing results against Georgia and Serbia over the past week.
As it stands, Ireland are 7/4 to finish in the top two, and 50/1 to win the group.
Ireland produced an insipid display in Tbilisi despite taking an early lead against Georgia, and were unlucky to come out on the wrong side of a 1-0 scoreline against Serbia at the Aviva three days later.
These results means Ireland sit third in Group D on 13 points, one point behind Wales and four behind Serbia, whose 1-0 victory in the Aviva on Tuesday puts them in pole position to top the group.
FIFA have confirmed this week that the World Cup play-offs between the eight best second-placed teams will be seeded in two pots based on world rankings, which means that Ireland or Wales (whoever finishes second) could find themselves facing the likes of Portugal, Italy or Sweden for a place in Russia.
As it stands, Wales could fail to qualify for Russia as they are currently the lowest ranked second-placed team. The results against the bottom team in each group – in our case Moldova – are discounted, which leaves Wales behind Italy, Portugal, Sweden, Iceland, Slovakia, Northern Ireland, Montenegro and Bosnia with two games remaining.
However, Ireland will seal second place if they can take maximum points against Moldova and Wales, with the last group game in Cardiff likely to be a winner takes all affair.
Ireland should be confident of navigating their way past Moldova at the Aviva, despite the loss of Robbie Brady and James McClean through suspension.
There is also the reasonable possibility that Chris Coleman’s side slip up in Tbilisi against Georgia, as Ireland did. This could mean that the boys in green would need just a draw in Cardiff to seal second place in the group, which would leave us on 11 points (excluding the Moldova results), while two wins would mean a 13 point tally.
Bosnia, who are ranked just above Wales as the eighth best second placed team, are currently on eight points, with games against Estonia and Belgium to come.
Two wins would take Bosnia to 14 points, and would mean that Ireland will fail to qualify for the play-offs even if they win both remaining matches.
Therefore, Martin O’Neill will be hoping that Bosnia slip up at least once (most likely against Belgium) in their remaining fixtures.
Once the final group standings are determined, the draw for the play-offs will take place on October 17th, and the subsequent games will occur between November 9th-14th.