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Explainer: What Ireland now need to do to qualify for World Cup 2018

Group D remains tight with each team having four games to play.

groupd

(Image via Uefa.com)

Remaining fixtures

2 September: Georgia v Ireland, Serbia v Moldova, Wales v Austria.

5 September: Moldova v Wales, Ireland v Serbia, Austria v Georgia.

6 October: Georgia v Wales, Ireland v Moldova, Austria v Serbia.

9 October: Moldova v Austria, Serbia v Georgia, Wales v Ireland.

After yesterday’s results, there has literally been no change to Group D aside from everyone gaining an extra point.

Ireland-Austria and Serbia-Wales both ended 1-1, while Moldova-Georgia finished 2-2.

The Boys in Green remain in a relatively healthy position as they vie for top spot, with Serbia currently ahead of them on goal difference only.

Wales and Austria both trail the top two by four points, while if they weren’t already, both Georgia and Moldova are now completely out of the picture.

Qualification remains in Ireland’s hands and wins in their next four matches will ensure their spot at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

However, things are rarely so simple with the Boys in Green and there are likely to be plenty more twists and turns before Group D’s climax in October.

Let us, however, look at some of the possible permutations.

With Moldova and Georgia effectively left with nothing but pride to play for, the other sides in the group would be expected to overcome these teams. If they do, here’s how the top four will look.

Serbia 18

Ireland 18

Wales 14

Austria 14

So provided the games in question pan out as expected, the following matches will be key:

Wales v Austria (2 September)

Ireland v Serbia (5 September)

Austria v Serbia (6 October)

Wales v Ireland (9 October)

Three points from the above games would likely at least seal runners-up spot for Ireland, while two draws also would leave them in an excellent position. Even a point against Wales and a loss to Serbia would put them in good stead for second spot, provided Austria don’t win their two fixtures above. Getting beaten by Wales on the final day, however, could prove fatal if they fail to get three points against the Serbs.

So what exactly do Ireland need?

Four wins would obviously be the ideal scenario, but even as little as six points could be enough for Ireland to get one of the top two spots — in the last World Cup qualifying campaign, 18 points was enough to secure second place in all of the nine groups.

Three wins leaves Ireland looking pretty healthy for second place or potentially better, though four points or anything less would seriously jeopardise their hopes.

The Boys in Green must also be wary of one possible pitfall. They could conceivably finish second and still be eliminated — only the eight best runners-up qualify for the play-offs from nine groups. It is just results against teams ranked between first and fifth in the group count in this table of second-placed teams, so Ireland’s results against either Moldova or Georgia will be irrelevant should they find themselves in this position.

Martin O’Neill’s side could also do with improving their goal difference, as that — rather than head-to-head records — determines who finishes ahead of who if two teams end the campaign on the same number of points.

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Paul Fennessy

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