Things are bad. They could be about to get a lot worse.
The Republic of Ireland senior team have had a horrible year, probably the worst 12-month period in recent memory. The team have been hammered by Denmark and Wales and haven’t won a competitive match since last October.
Following Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat to Wales at the Aviva Stadium, Martin O’Neill’s side are facing relegation from the second tier of the Uefa Nations League Group.
While that may not seem like a big deal, it does have some potentially costly ramifications.
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) October 17, 2018
Firstly, it means that we will drop down to the third tier of the competition.
More importantly, it will negatively affect the team’s chances of reaching Euro 2020. Ireland are now likely to be third seeds for the qualification stage, which gets underway next March.
That means Ireland could end up in an extremely tough group.
If the current team can’t beat two sides of equal quality – Wales without Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey and Denmark without Christian Eriksen – what hope will they have of finishing above two higher ranked teams?
— Dion Fanning (@dionfanning) October 16, 2018
Ireland missing out on a tournament is always disappointing. However, missing out on this European Championships would prove particularly hard to take.
Dublin will host two Ireland matches if the team qualify, as the Euros will be hosted in cities throughout the continent.
The draw takes place at the Convention Centre in Dublin in December.
As it currently stands, here is how the teams will be seeded for qualifying (this could change by the time the Nations League group stages end in November).
Pot 1: France, Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Portugal, Italy, Spain, England, Germany, Poland.
Pot 2: Croatia, Iceland, Russia, Turkey, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Austria, Wales, Denmark, Ukraine, Czech Republic.
Pot 3: Slovakia, Sweden, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Israel, Finland, Norway, Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro.
Pot 4: Scotland, Albania, Greece, Hungary, Estonia, Cyprus, Slovenia, Romania, Lithuania, Georgia.
Pot 5: Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Belarus, Moldova, Kosovo, Azerbaijan, Faroe Islands, Macedonia, Gibraltar, Armenia, San Marino.
Just a reminder, this seeding is open to change before the draw is made in on December 2.
But here are the best and worst qualification groups Ireland could get. As well as one where they would have a fighting chance of qualification. Well, hopefully anyway.
The top two from every group will qualify automatically for the tournament in 2020.
There will be five groups of five teams and another five groups of six teams. The countries that win their Nations League groups, will be drawn in a five-team group for Euro 2020 qualification.
So, in two of these potential groups, Ireland are in six-team groups.
The worst group Ireland could get
Ireland will not qualify from this group, regardless of who is the manager. France are the world champions and have the most talented collection of players in international football. They would swat us aside with ease.
Croatia were beaten in the World Cup final by France and are a technically gifted side. They would find a way to beat Ireland in both games.
O’Neill’s Ireland failed to beat Scotland in qualification for Euro 2016. Although the Scots are having some trouble at the moment, any games between the two sides would be close. Kazakhstan would be a long trip, but the Ireland team should beat them.
The best group Ireland could get
- Czech Republic
- San Marino
This looks like a much more manageable group. Poland have some good players, none more so than Robert Lewandowski, but matches against them in recent years have been even contests.
The Czech Republic had a brilliant generation of footballers over 10 years ago but now look a little lightweight. They finished below Northern Ireland in qualification for the 2018 World Cup and have lost five of their last eight games.
Ireland may not be favourites for any match against them, but the Czech Republic could end up being arguably the weakest side from pot two. While even this current Ireland team should find a way past Lithuania, Gibraltar and San Marino.
The “we’ll take it” group
- San Marino
There are no guarantees that Ireland would come out of this group. But it would give us a fighting chance.
It could come down to two teams for the second-place spot – Iceland or Ireland.
England are in great form and would win this group. But it would be great for Ireland to play them in a competitive match. The Irish players would raise their game and the two matches would be memorable events. Iceland are a functional side and may be slightly in decline following some incredible feats in recent years.
Estonia, San Marino and Luxembourg shouldn’t pose much threat to Ireland. Well, it’s difficult to say that with too much certainty after the year the team has just had.
Again, a lot can change before the draw takes place in December. Ireland may even score a goal. In November, they play Northern Ireland in a friendly and finish off their Nations League campaign against Denmark.