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State of Play: Four down, six to go - Ireland in good shape in quest to reach Russia

A win on Friday could eliminate one direct rival in the race for automatic qualification.

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FOUR GAMES IN and the Republic of Ireland remain undefeated in their quest to reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

And with six fixtures left, the number-crunching leads to a pretty promising conclusion: Martin O’Neill’s side are in good shape.

Daryl Murphy’s equaliser in Belgrade and James McClean’s winner in Vienna ensured four points from two tricky away assignments against Serbia and Austria.

And from the remaining six games, four of them are on home soil.

All very encouraging.

But, historically, a solid start hasn’t always meant a happy ending and O’Neill will also be minded to acknowledge the slender victories against Georgia and Austria and the unconvincing nature of Ireland’s singular performance at the Aviva so far.

In 1996, Jack Charlton’s side were unbeaten in their opening six qualifiers but lost three times in their last four games and were forced into a play-off where they surrendered to the Netherlands.

A decade later, under Brian Kerr, there was an unbeaten run of seven games. But back-to-back draws against Israel proved incredibly costly while another stalemate against Switzerland in Dublin was the final nail in the coffin. The draw meant the Swiss made the play-offs at Ireland’s expense.

Martin O'Neill Source: Ryan Byrne; ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Right now, O’Neill’s charges have a two-point advantage over Serbia and are four clear of Wales.

A decent Irish result on Friday could essentially push Chris Coleman’s side out of contention for automatic qualification. Victory for the Irish would leave them on 13 points and Wales on six. Effectively, the battle for top spot becomes a two-horse race. And, even more intriguing, it’s Serbia v Wales later this summer, where the Welsh would certainly need a win to breathe some new life into their campaign.

O’Neill’s strategy will certainly be to approach with caution. But, three points tomorrow night could pretty much eliminate a direct rival.

Group D remaining fixtures:

24 March 

Georgia v Serbia

Austria v Moldova

Republic of Ireland v Wales

11 June

Moldova v Georgia

Republic of Ireland v Austria

Serbia v Wales

2 September

Georgia v Republic of Ireland

Serbia v Moldova

Wales v Austria

5 September

Austria v Georgia

Moldova v Wales

Republic of Ireland v Serbia

6 October

Georgia v Wales

Austria v Serbia

Republic of Ireland v Moldova

9 October

Moldova v Austria

Serbia v Georgia

Wales v Republic of Ireland

Good news for Ireland as quartet return to training ahead of World Cup qualifier

What team should Ireland pick to start against Wales?

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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