Ireland huddle ahead of the Netherlands game. Evan Treacy/INPHO

Explainer: How Ireland can still qualify for Euro 2024

The backdoor route via the playoffs is still a possibility for Stephen Kenny’s beleaguered side.

IRELAND CAN still mathematically qualify automatically from their group for Euro 2024, however realistically it won’t happen.

It is dependent on a set of results so improbable as to be not worth looking into, with even Stephen Kenny admitting after last night’s Netherlands loss that hopes of automatic progression are doomed.

However, Ireland can still potentially qualify via the backdoor route of the playoffs.

Only 20 of the 23 teams on the plane to Germany will be confirmed once the group stages are complete.

12 teams will subsequently compete for the additional three spots.

These playoffs will essentially comprise three four-team mini-tournaments encompassing a one-off semi-final and final.

The group winners of Nations Leagues A, B and C will automatically qualify for the playoffs if they fail to qualify directly.

So, for example, in Ireland’s group, if France and Netherlands finish first and second, Greece will be guaranteed a playoff spot regardless of which of the bottom three places they occupy, given that they previously finished top of Nations League group C2.

But if the Nations League group winner has already qualified — as will likely be the case with the Netherlands, for example — then they will be replaced by the next best-ranked team from the same group that has not automatically qualified.

So essentially, now that their hopes of automatic progression are over, Ireland need to hope as many of the higher-ranked Nations League teams can qualify as possible.

As it stands, Ireland are 26th in the Nations League rankings.

You can view the rankings in full here.

The more teams that are ranked below Ireland qualify automatically, the less chance the Boys in Green have of making the playoffs.

So for example, in Group I, Ireland will be hoping 29th-ranked Romania don’t qualify automatically. They are currently second, one point ahead of Israel, who are guaranteed a playoff if they don’t finish in the top two.

Similarly, in Group F, 30th-ranked Sweden qualifying automatically would be bad news, though encouragingly from an Irish perspective, they are currently third, four points behind both Belgium and Austria.

Last night, 27th-ranked Albania’s win over 11th-ranked Poland was bad news for Ireland. The Poles will certainly be in the playoffs if they miss out on automatic qualification, and that is looking increasingly likely, as they are now fourth in the group, four points behind the table-topping Albanians.

The We Global Football Twitter account (@We_Global) is an excellent resource for keeping on top of these developments.

Following last night’s results, their projections (see tweet below) had Ireland not making the playoffs as it stands, though they had the Boys in Green making the cut as recently as 9 September, so these standings are obviously subject to significant change with plenty more matches to be played across Europe in the coming months.

So what next for the Irish team?

They have three more group games that are effectively dead rubbers from their perspective — home to Greece (13 October), away to Gibraltar (16 October) and away to the Netherlands (18 November).

They then could potentially be involved in a playoff semi-final (21 March) and a playoff final (26 March)

Ireland’s poor ranking means they would likely face the prospect of a semi-final away from home and against one of the stronger teams in path A or B.

These games will take place less than three months before the Euros proper kicks off, on 14 June 2024.

The playoff factor will also complicate the issue of Stephen Kenny’s departure, should the FAI opt to part ways with the manager.

Some will argue that it may be beneficial to give the prospective new manager the three remaining group games to get to know the Irish players and prepare them for a potential playoff.

Others will feel Kenny’s contract should be honoured and that he deserves to see out the campaign as well as any further qualification chances that may present themselves in the upcoming months.

N.B. A version of this piece originally appeared on the site on 10 October 2022.

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