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We look at the task facing Ireland to qualify for Russia after Ryan Giggs' mischievous comment

The former Wales winger playfully suggested that his country had an easy draw for the World Cup qualifiers.

Ireland kick-off their qualification campaign in Belgrade.
Ireland kick-off their qualification campaign in Belgrade.
Image: PA Archive/Press Association Images

AFTER SPENDING OVER 12 years as his teammate with Manchester United, it would probably be fair to say that Ryan Giggs knows how to avoid getting on the wrong side of Roy Keane.

Last night though, he decided to provoke his former captain when he suggested Wales can look forward to a “nice easy group” to qualify for the World Cup.  A group that contains Ireland.

Although his comment was made in jest, Giggs has put Ireland’s task of reaching the 2018 World Cup back into the spotlight today.

The talk for the past six months has understandably been all about Belgium, Italy and Sweden, but with the qualifiers starting in September, Martin O’Neill’s focus will have to quickly to turn to Group D of the World Cup Qualifiers.

Overview

Group D: Wales, Austria, Serbia, Ireland, Moldova and Georgia.

When the draw was made back in July of last year there was a general sense of relief from the Irish camp after O’Neill’s side avoided any of Europe’s heavyweights, but with the group not containing any of the so-called minnows either, it could be an evenly contested affair.

It’s important to note at this stage that the qualifying system is different to that of the recently expanded European Championships.

Just the top team from each of the nine groups will qualify automatically, while only the eight best runners-up across all of the groups will progress to the play-off round. Leaving one team finishing second missing out.

With Ireland’s group not containing any of the weakest countries, the inclusion of Gerogia, instead of a team with the record of  San Marino, Andorra or Liechtenstein, for example, could prove crucial at the end of the campaign, should Ireland finish in second position.

The Opposition

Wales (Top seeds)

Fifa Ranking: 26

Having been eliminated by Portugal after a heroic run to the semi-finals in France, Wales will be brimming with confidence at the start of this campaign. But expectation can bring its only pressures.

Despite Wales reaching the final four in Euro 2016, Ireland will be relatively happy to face Chris Coleman’s side, after avoiding the likes of Spain, Germany, Croatia or Belgium in the draw.

Euro 2016 qualification record

Wales finished second in their group during the Euro 2016 qualifiers to gain an automatic passage to the finals. They famously took four points from their matches against Belgium, with their only loss coming away to Bosnia.

Recent World Cup history

But Wales have only qualified for the World Cup once before, in 1958, when they lost to eventual winners Brazil in the quarter-finals.

Record against Ireland

Ireland have good record against their Celtic neighbours and are unbeaten in their last six games against Wales, securing three wins and three draws.

They last met competitively during the Euro 2008 qualifiers, with Ireland beating Wales 1-0 in the first-ever football match at Croke Park.

The return fixture saw Don Givens take charge in a caretaker role, following the dismissal of manager Steve Staunton, with the match in Cardiff ending 2-2.

Star Players: Ashley Williams (Swansea), Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal), Gareth Bale (Real Madrid).

Wales v Belgium - UEFA Euro 2016 - Quarter Final - Stade Pierre Mauroy Source: Joe Giddens

Austria (Second seeds)

Fifa Ranking: 10

Austria were many people’s pick as a dark-horse for Euro 2016, but a dismal campaign in France saw them pick up just a single point to Portugal that left them bottom of a group containing Hungary and Iceland.

Euro 2016 qualification record

Austria topped a tricky-looking group that included Russia and Sweden to qualify for France, but perhaps the performances of those teams in the tournament put that achievement into context. 

They still managed an impressive points tally in the qualification process. After drawing with Sweden in their opening game, they went on to win all of their remaining nine matches.

Recent World Cup history

Austria, who have qualified for seven World Cups in the past, have not been to the finals since France in 1998 when they failed to get out of their group.

Record against Ireland

Ireland last played Austria during the qualification round of the last World Cup.

Giovanni Trapattoni’s side conceded a last-gasp equaliser to draw 2-2 at the Aviva Stadium, before going on to lose 1-0 in Vienna to put an end to Ireland’s hopes of reaching Brazil.

Star Players: David Alaba (Bayern Munich), Marko Arnautovic (Stoke City), Marc Janko (Basel).

Iceland v Austria - UEFA Euro 2016 - Group F - Stade de France Source: Francois Mori

Serbia (Third seeds)

Fifa Ranking: 54

If Wales and Ireland are greater than the sum of their parts, then Serbia are the exact opposite. A striking lack of unity within a supremely talented but divided squad has seen Serbia fail to qualify for  the last three major tournaments.

Euro 2016 qualification record

Serbia were drawn into a five-team group for the Euro 2016 qualifiers along with Portugal, Albania, Denmark and Armenia but could only manage to take four points against Armenia as well as defeating Albania away.

Their home match against Albania however, was abandoned after a drone with a pro-Albanian banner caused the match to be called off. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that Albania should be awarded a 3-0 win.

Recent World Cup history

Serbia last qualified for the World Cup in 2010, when they finished bottom of their group, but managed to stun Germany in the process with a 1-0 victory.

Record against Ireland

Ireland have never faced Serbia in a competitive international, but they have played in three friendlies, with Serbia winning the last encounter 2-1 in 2014.

Star Players: Nemanja Matic (Chelsea), Adem Ljajic (Inter Milan), Dusan Tadic (Southampton).

Serbia Macedonia WCup Soccer Source: AP/Press Association Images

Moldova (Fifth seeds)

Fifa Ranking: 159

Moldova were one of the more favourable teams that Ireland could have drawn from the fifth pot, with O’Neill glad to avoid the likes of Armenia and Cyprus.

Euro 2016 qualification record

They were part of Austria’s qualifying group for Euro 2016 but finished bottom, behind Liechtenstein, after only picking up two points from their 10 games.

But it is important to note that Moldova didn’t lose any game by more than two goals, and managed to get a credible draw away to Russia – although they did lose at home to Liechtenstein.

Recent World Cup history

The Eastern European country have never competed in a major tournament.

Record against Ireland

They have also never faced the Boys in Green.

Star Players: Alexandru Epureanu (Istanbul Basaksehir), Artur Ionita (Cagliari), Eugen Sidorenco (Milsami Orhei).

Austria Moldova Euro Soccer Source: AP/Press Association Images

Georgia (Sixth seeds)

Fifa Ranking: 137

Having been in Ireland’s group in the last campaign, don’t be surprised if Georgia get an extra warm cheer when they come to the Aviva Stadium later this year. It was their victory over Scotland that helped rejuvenate Ireland’s chances of qualifying for France.

Euro 2016 qualification record

Ireland will be well aware of the dangers that Georgia possess. It took a last-minute winner from Aiden McGeady to give the Boys in Green all three points in their first qualifier last time out, while an inspired piece of play from Jeff Hendrick set Jon Walters up for the only goal in Dublin.

Georgia can blow hot and cold, and were beaten comprehensively in both games against Poland, but narrowly missed out on picking up a point to Germany on the last matchday.

Recent World Cup history

Despite never qualifying for a major tournament, Georgia were the most dangerous of the teams in the sixth pot, and they recently beat Spain in a pre-Euro 2016 friendly at the start of June.

Record against Ireland

Georgia have lost all of their matches against Ireland, but they have never beaten Georgia by more than two goals in a competitive game, with just a single goal separating the sides in the last four encounters.

Star Players: Solomon Kvirkvelia (Ruban Kazan), Jaba Kankava (Remis), Levan Mchedlidze (Empoli).

Soccer - UEFA European Championship Qualifying - Group D - Republic of Ireland v Georgia - Aviva Stadium Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

Ireland 2018 World Cup Group D qualifiers:

2016

Monday 5 September: Serbia v Ireland

Thursday 6 October: Ireland v Georgia

Sunday 9 October: Moldova v Ireland

Saturday 12 November: Austria v Ireland

2017 

Friday 24 March: Ireland v Wales

Sunday 11 June: Ireland v Austria

Saturday 2 September: Georgia v Ireland

Tuesday 5 September: Ireland v Serbia

Friday 6 October: Ireland v Moldova

Monday 9 October: Wales v Ireland

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About the author:

Shane Costello

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