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The Ireland team (file pic).
The Ireland team (file pic).
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Crucial World Cup ranking points at stake, as Ireland aim to end barren run against Ryan Giggs-less Wales

Stephen Kenny’s side are also aiming a run of five games without a goal.
Nov 15th 2020, 7:30 AM 7,075 2

21 NOVEMBER 2022, when the World Cup in Qatar is due to begin, may seem like a long way away, but today’s game in Cardiff could still have some influence on Ireland’s hopes of qualifying.

Whether Ireland enter qualification in Pot 2 or Pot 3 could have a big impact on the Boys in Green’s chances of reaching the tournament.

For instance, the teams in Pot 1 are set to include Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain, while Poland, Switzerland, Ukraine and Sweden are some of the sides likely to feature in Pot 2.

Ireland consequently could expect an easier draw should they earn a place in Pot 2, though whether they succeed very much hangs in the balance.

Losing to England on Thursday lost them some ranking points, but the fact that forthcoming games against Wales and Bulgaria are competitive means they will have a greater bearing on what position they finish in.

As explained in detail here, Ireland are top of Pot 3 at the moment, just ahead of Norway, Romania and Scotland, and narrowly behind Turkey, Slovakia and Russia.

It is currently impossible to definitively say what Ireland need to secure a place in Pot 2, as the outcome is dependent on how a number of other international matches pan out.

Nevertheless, it is fair to say that two wins in their upcoming Nations League matches would put them in a strong position and should be enough for a Pot 2 spot, while two losses would kill off any hope of avoiding Pot 3.

Of course, with only 10 group winners plus three teams out of 12 contesting the play-offs advancing, reaching Qatar will be an arduous task regardless, but Stephen Kenny’s men could at least make things slightly less difficult with a win today coupled with a victory in Dublin on Wednesday.

Yet there are more immediate, straightforward concerns for the Irish team. It is exactly a year and a day since the team’s last victory — a 3-1 win over New Zealand in a friendly.

In the seven games since then, six of which have been overseen by Kenny, they have registered four draws, three losses and a measly total of two goals.

You have to go as far back as June 2019 for their last competitive win — a 2-0 victory at home to Gibraltar.

And interestingly enough, their most recent competitive win versus a side of comparable standing came against Wales in Cardiff in October 2017, though they have also lost twice and drawn once against today’s opponents since then.

On a similarly ominous note, they have managed just two goals in eight Nations League matches, one of which came amid a 4-1 defeat the last time they travelled to face Wales.

Nonetheless, the message from the Irish camp in recent days has been one of positivity.

Stephen Kenny and the players up for media duty in recent days have insisted that they are better than the team’s results suggested.

To hammer home this message, Kenny has shown the squad a collage of chances they have created in recent games.

While Thursday’s resounding defeat against one of the best sides in the world in England was an obvious anomaly, there have been other games, most notably the unfortunate play-off defeat in Slovakia, where Kenny’s side have played well and deserved a better outcome.

Yet confidence and momentum are key in football, and for all the optimism publicly expressed by the squad, the Wembley loss suggests Ireland are lacking in both. Therefore, three points today are badly needed to reverse a worrying trend.

As increasingly feels like the norm of late, the Irish squad have been hit by a number of withdrawals ahead of the game.

It was confirmed yesterday that Seamus Coleman, John Egan and Harry Arter have returned to their clubs due to injury. They join Aaron Connolly, Enda Stevens and Callum Robinson among the list of absentees, as well as James McCarthy, who has been definitively ruled out for family reasons, while Alan Browne was rendered unavailable earlier this week after testing positive for Covid 19.

As a result, midfield duo Jason Knight and Josh Cullen have linked up with the squad, as well as defenders Darragh Lenihan and Ciaran Clark.

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As previously arranged, Jack Byrne and Ryan Manning have also come onboard, with a total of 25 players now available to Kenny.

wales-v-usa-international-friendly-liberty-stadium Robert Page is temporarily in charge of Wales in Ryan Giggs' absence. Source: PA

Meanwhile, Ireland’s opponents have problems of their own.

Assistant manager Robert Page is currently in charge of the side temporarily, with Ryan Giggs absent after being arrested over an alleged assault, which the former Manchester United star denies.

“We know anytime we play the Republic of Ireland it’s going to be a tough game and a physical battle,” Page, who also oversaw a 0-0 friendly draw against USA on Thursday, told reporters ahead of the game.

“We certainly have to match that first and we have enough quality to ask them questions and test them.

We know they’re in a transition period with a new manager who’s got his own philosophy and way he wants to play. It will take time for the players to adapt to that.”

Wales, who have qualified for the Euros and are unbeaten in their last nine competitive fixtures, could potentially secure first place in the group and promotion to the Nations League top tier with a win, while Ireland are currently in danger of relegation, as they sit a point ahead of Bulgaria in third.

On-loan Tottenham star Gareth Bale is expected to return for Page’s team, after being rested for the USA game, though the hosts will be without Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey and Swansea City centre-back Ben Cabango

Republic of Ireland (Possible XI): Darren Randolph; Cyrus Christie, Shane Duffy, Dara O’Shea, Matt Doherty; Jeff Hendrick, Jayson Molumby; James McClean, Robbie Brady, Callum O’Dowda; James Collins.

On TV: Sky Sports Football; KO 5pm

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Paul Fennessy


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