Friday 3 February 2023 Dublin: 10°C
INPHO/James Crombie Ireland's Marc Wilson and John O'Shea dejected at the final whistle against Sweden.
# mathematically possible
Explainer: Here's how Ireland can pull off a miracle and qualify for the World Cup
Trap’s side can still technically qualify, though there are a number of caveats that could prevent them from doing so.

How’s the group looking?

Ireland currently have 11 points from seven games, level with Austria, and three points behind Sweden, who of course, beat Trap’s men at the weekend. Meanwhile, Germany are all but assured first place, needing just six points from their last three games to guarantee automatic qualification (and one of the games is against group minnows Faroe Islands). Moreover, the Germans’ goal difference is so superior to that of anyone else in the group that four points would almost definitely be sufficient, in the unlikely scenario of them having a disastrous end to their campaign.

So essentially, first and foremost, Ireland are relying on Sweden slipping up in at least one of their final three games (against Kazakhstan, Austria and Germany).

Even if Ireland recover the three-point margin, Sweden still are +4 to the good as far as goal difference is concerned, so they’ll in all likelihood have to hope they drop points in at least two of the games.

Of course, that’s still working under the assumption that Ireland win all three of their final group games: away to Austria and Germany, and at home to Kazakhstan — an unenviable task if ever there was one.

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Tell me more about this best runners-up malarkey…

Essentially, only eight of the nine teams can make the play-0ffs. To measure who is eligible, the teams with the highest points, in second place, have their results added up (excluding their games against the bottom-placed team, with the exception of Group I, which has only five teams). Hence, the eight teams with the highest points tally under these conditions go through to the play-offs. Ireland’s points tally is currently dangerously low, so even if they finish second, they could possibly not qualify by virtue of their being the worst runners-up.

Is there any way back if Ireland fail to beat Austria?

Technically, Ireland could still finish second, but it’d be dependent upon an extremely unlikely series of results. It would mean they’d need to beat both Germany and Kazakhstan and hope the Sweden-Austria game ends in a draw. They would also likely be heavily reliant on Austria slipping up against the Faroes — a near-impossible outcome.

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Yet even if all these results occurred, Ireland would be hard-pressed to secure one of the best runners-up spots on account of their low overall points tally.

So what do they need to do?

Essentially, it appears that seven points from their final three games is essential, but even with nine, they would be relying on other results (primarily Sweden slipping up) working out in their favour, while the prospect of Group C producing the worst runner-up is also a distinct possibility. In other words, managing to qualify from in the context of this current situation would probably be the greatest and most improbable achievement in Irish footballing history.

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