The Aviva will play host to Dublin’s first finals. Will the team be there too?
In the not too distant past, qualification for the World Cup and the European Championships was straightforward. On paper at least.
Win enough games, scrape enough points together, and you were there, job done. FIFA, UEFA and straightforward aren’t particularly happy bedfellows though.
In their collective wisdom, they have messed around with the tournaments themselves as well as the means to qualify for them until you need a qualification in statistics to understand what your team needs to do to get there.
Back to Tradition
In a way, Ireland’s poor performance in the inaugural Nations League – a tournament no one really knew existed until it was upon us – have made qualification a little more straightforward.
At least as in the case, we need to do it the good old fashioned way by actually accumulating more points than the other teams in the group.
There is another way, but if you haven’t got that stats degree you may be left scratching your head.
No one can deny we were handed a favourable draw in Dublin last December, and it is now in our hands.
If we can grind out the results, everything else is irrelevant. And when it comes to grinding out results, we have the right man at the helm.
Everyone knows what you are getting with McCarthy, and also what you are not getting.
He will get the best from a limited squad of players. He will not – and is not ashamed of the fact – deliver fast-paced, free-flowing football, that is easy on the eye.
It is very unlikely many of Mick’s sides make it into anyone’s both teams to score accas. But, that is fine. He was tasked with getting us to the Euros and he is probably the man most likely to do that. Of those available anyway.
Ireland find themselves in a group of five, courtesy of Switzerland’s inclusion in the Nations League finals this summer.
Their place in that also means that even if the Swiss finish out of the top two, they are guaranteed a play-off place.
Ireland’s chance of getting such a place depends not on us, but on other teams not performing. So, in reality, we need to get a top two place, and if we don’t we can pray for a miracle from elsewhere.
The Route to….
It is maybe being over critical to criticise when we are sitting on top of the league with 6 points after the opening two fixtures.
McCarthy himself said he hated the Gibraltar game, but he and everyone else would have hated it a whole lot more had we not collected all three points.
Overall, it has been an encouraging start to the campaign. No one is under any delusion that it won’t become tougher though.
Denmark and Switzerland are two of the teams that invariably qualify for major tournaments and are seen as a side to avoid in the group stages of those tournaments, because of the threat they pose.
In reality, though, they rarely deliver on that threat. That said, Switzerland performed well in their group games in Russia (drawing with Brazil, beating Serbia), before going out tamely to Sweden.
Denmark came through a tough group, drawing 0-0 with eventual winners France, before going out on penalties to runners up Croatia. That tells you the size of the task in McCarthy’s experienced hands.
It is yet to be seen whether the remarkable result between those two sides – the Danes coming back from three down with six minutes left to snatch a draw in Basel – will benefit Ireland or not.
Both teams dropped two points, but it may have been better if one side had got none.
What is certain, is that if we are to finish in the top two positions we will need to take points, all three points at least once, off those two teams. What is equally certain is that in order to do that, we will have to play better than in the first two matches.
Finally, if qualification is secured, there is the equally complicated matter of where we have actually secured it to.
With 12 host cities in 12 different countries, the traditional tournament football template has been ripped to shreds.
Dublin, of course, is one of those host cities, but it would be a mixed blessing if we qualified for the tournament only to play in our own back yard.
That, of course, is in the future, there are a lot of hard games before we have to think about crossing that bridge.