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Slovakia collapse gives Ireland World Cup seeding boost

Although the rankings will be determined after next month’s games, Ireland have snuck into pot two.

Jeff Hendrick in action for Ireland against Slovakia last week.
Jeff Hendrick in action for Ireland against Slovakia last week.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

IN SPITE OF not winning a game over this international window, Ireland have crept up the Fifa world rankings to the point they are ranked within the top 20 of sides from Europe, and thus would be ranked as second seeds were the 2022 World Cup qualifying draw held tomorrow.

There are plenty of caveats here: the draw is in December and will take into account results in next month’s window, while Ireland’s margin is wafer-thin and are rated just a single ranking point ahead of Slovakia at the top of pot three. 

The result which vaulted Ireland into pot two was a Nations League collapse by Slovakia last night. Leading Israel 2-0 with only a third of the game left, they somehow lost 3-2.

The updated Fifa world rankings, on which all of this is based, have yet to be published, but have been calculated ahead of time by Twitter user We Global Football, and it shows Ireland have snuck into the top 20, but are only one ranking point ahead of Slovakia, five ahead of Iceland, six ahead of Northern Ireland, and 11 ahead of Norway. 

Ireland have climbed to pot two in spite of losing ranking points over this international break. But while they lost ground, they lost it at a slower rate than their closest rivals: back-to-back defeats for Slovakia and Northern Ireland have seen them fall back, while three straight-defeats for Romania have allowed Ireland take their spot at the bottom of pot two. 

These ranking points are calculated using an algorithm which takes into account the importance of the game and the quality of the opposition. Teams either gain or lose points depending on the results of games.

To illustrate how tight the margins are: had Ireland beaten Wales last Sunday, they would have gained nine ranking points. 

The Euro 2020 play-offs have been given more weight than the standard Nations League games, and Ireland’s play-off loss to Slovakia was registered as a draw for the purposes of the rankings. 

Ireland’s immediate seeding opponents, Slovakia and Northern Ireland, play each other in the playoff we missed out on, but rankings-wise, it’s a double-edged sword. While it gives the winner a chance to gain more ranking points, the loser will lose more than they would in a lower-stakes game. 

While Ireland’s next double header in the Nations League is preceded by a fairly grim-sounding, consolation and contractually-obliged friendly against Bosnia, who lost to Northern Ireland in the other play-off semi-final, playing the game offers Ireland a chance to gather a few more ranking points. 

That said, there are even fewer ranking points on offer for friendly games, so the crucial matches are those against Wales and Bulgaria in the Nations League. 

Gavin Cooney
Reports From Qatar

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The seedings are still wide open and nothing is yet guaranteed ahead of December’s draw, but it is a glimmer of light at the end of a difficult week. 

World Cup seeding (as it stands) 

Pot One: Belgium, France, England, Portugal, Spain, Croatia, Italy, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands

Pot Two: Switzerland, Poland, Sweden, Wales, Ukraine, Austria, Serbia, Turkey, Russia, Republic of Ireland 

Pot Three: Slovakia, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Norway, Romania, Scotland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Bosnia, Greece

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Gavin Cooney

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