Explainer: How Ireland can still qualify for the 2019 World Cup

Their bid to reach a first-ever major tournament took a hit last night, but it can still be done.

IRELAND’S UNBEATEN RUN in the 2019 Women’s World Cup qualifiers was ended by European champions the Netherlands on home soil last night, and their bid to reach a first-ever major tournament took a hit.

Down but not out, progression to the finals is still a possibility. Colin Bell’s side are still very much in contention in Group 3 as we enter the final stretch.

As it stands

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The Netherlands are top of the pile on 13 points, their only dropped points after five games coming against Ireland in Nijmegen last November. They’ve scored 15 goals and conceded none.

Ireland are currently in second place on 10 points, after three wins, one draw and one loss. They’ve scored six goals and conceded three.

Ireland’s results so far
  • Win – 0-2 v Northern Ireland (A)
  • Win – 0-2 v Slovakia (A)
  • Draw – 0-0 v The Netherlands (A)
  • Win – 2-1 v Slovakia (H)
  • Loss – 0-2 v The Netherlands (H)

Top seeds Norway are in third, but they have a game in hand. Their wins over Northern Ireland (two) and Slovakia have tallied to nine points, while their one loss of the campaign came against Holland (1-0). They’ve scored 13 goals and conceded three, making their goal difference 10.

Northern Ireland are pretty much out of the picture in fourth with three points, while Slovakia remain the basement side, yet to record a single point.

What’s next?

Ireland teamshot The Ireland team that started against The Netherlands last night. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

For Ireland, all focus switches to a massive double-header with Norway in June. Tallaght Stadium plays host to the first leg on the 8th, before they travel for the return clash on the 12th. Their last fixture is a home tie against Northern Ireland on 31 August.

Ireland’s fixtures
  • 8 June v Norway (H)
  • 12 June v Norway (A)
  • 31 August v Northern Ireland (H)

Following the double-header, Norway then travel to Slovakia on 31 August before their last outing against the Dutch at home on 4 September.

The Netherlands are on the road for two of their last three matches. They face Northern Ireland in Portadown on 8 June before welcoming Slovakia four days later on the 12th, and they finish up with that September visit to Norway.

Finishing in the top two

While the seven group winners automatically qualify for the finals, claiming the top spot looks unlikely for Ireland at the minute so they’ll be looking at finishing second. At the moment, it appears that the Netherlands won’t be caught.

As per the Uefa website, “the four runners-up with the best record against the sides first, third and fourth in their groups go into the play-offs for the remaining Uefa berths in France.

“The four contenders are drawn into two ties played over two legs in October 2018. The two winners then meet in November 2018 to decide the final qualifiers.”

Obviously, if Ireland take maximum points from their final three fixtures, they’ll finish on 19 points and should qualify for the play-offs at the very least (they’ll have taken points off their main competition, Norway).

Katie McCabe and Renete Jensen Captain Katie McCabe in action last night. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

After beating Northern Ireland 2-0 in the away leg, Bell’s side will be confident of taking all three points on offer once again in Tallaght at the end of August. That fixture seems the most winnable as of now.

It can’t be understated how crucial the Norway double-header will be. Two draws there, as well as beating the North, would potentially be enough for Ireland to finish second — meaning a 15-point finish.

Those two points for Norway would leave them on 11 points heading into their final two fixtures with Slovakia and the Netherlands, and they’d have to drop at least three points against those opponents for Ireland to finish runners-up — once the Girls in Green beat Northern Ireland.

And after that… qualification

The best runners-up situation is a completely different story but Ireland’s point against the probable table-toppers would work in their favour.

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That said, two draws against Norway, as discussed above, could potentially hinder Ireland’s hopes of being in the best four in the runners-up process. They may need a stronger record against the sides first, third and fourth in their group.

As of now, Ireland sit outside the best four second-placed nations with one draw and a loss record against the Netherlands in first and a win over fourth-placed Northern Ireland. They’re yet to face 3rd-placed Norway, of course.

(Ranking of second-placed teams as it stands)

table Source: Wikipedia.

If Ireland do manage to finish second in Group 3 as one of the top four runners-up then it would be onto a two-legged play-off — semi-finals as such — and then a final in November to determine Europe’s final qualifier for France 2019.

A tough, tough path, but it can be done.

As captain Katie McCabe said last night: “This certainly doesn’t rule us out of any World Cup. We’ll come back fighting in June.”

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Emma Duffy

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