All eyes on Hampden as Ireland set to learn World Cup play-off fate

Vera Pauw’s side will face Scotland or Austria away on Tuesday.

The Ireland XI that faced Slovakia in their last group qualifier last month.
The Ireland XI that faced Slovakia in their last group qualifier last month.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

ALL EYES WILL be on Hampden Park tonight as Vera Pauw’s Ireland learn their opponents for their historic 2023 World Cup play-off next week.

Scotland and Austria go head-to-head in Glasgow [7.35pm, BBC Alba & iPlayer] with the winners hosting the Girls In Green on Tuesday.

There’s two other first-round games down for decision tonight: Wales v Bosnia and Herzegovina at Cardiff City Stadium [7.15pm], and Portugal v Belgium at Estádio do FC Vizela [6pm].

Ireland — looking to reach their first-ever major tournament — are safely in the second round, having finished among the three best runners-up from the group stages. Iceland and Switzerland are the other two, the former travelling to Portugal/Belgium on Tuesday and the latter hosting Wales/Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Of the second-round winners, the two with the highest ranking — based on results in the qualifying group stage and round two play-offs: three points for a win after 120 minutes, one for a win on penalties — will qualify directly for next summer’s World Cup, while the other nation head to New Zealand in February for the inter-confederation play-offs. The last three qualifying spots are up for grabs at that 10-team tournament.

table Source: Uefa.

A win for Ireland against Scotland or Austria will likely send them down that route — but the main hope for direct qualification is that Iceland are beaten, unless there’s an unlikely slip-up for Switzerland.

The Girls In Green will be firmly focused on their direct opponents tonight, with plans in place to watch the showdown together after they play a game against an underage boys team, and they will depart for Glasgow or Vienna on Sunday.

The all-important venue will be Hampden or St Pölten, with kick-off times yet to be confirmed. Uncertainty also reigns over TV coverage, with talks ongoing between the FAI and RTÉ, the latter under Champions League contract, and timing likely to be an issue.

(Celtic are also in European action on Tuesday night, so there’s potential for a massive Glasgow double-header.)

“What I find strange is that the three games are not played at the same time,” as Pauw explained last week. “It could come down to goal difference and we may have to play one hour earlier, which is unfair. I don’t understand.

“Every last round of a competition is always played at the same time. And I have asked them why but they haven’t given me an answer. So one team might know they need an extra goal and they can gamble. And that is very unfair play. But to be honest, this whole set-up has not been the best. It’s not yet amended by Uefa. It’s very strange.”

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Emma Duffy

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