How do you qualify for World Cup 2014?
13 nations will qualify from the nine European groups.
The group winner can start booking their flights to Rio. The group runner up with the lowest tally of points will be out of contention.
The eight runners up with better finishing totals will play-off against each other to fill the remaining four berths at Brazil 2014.
How are we fixed?
Ireland go into this week’s two fixtures – against Sweden and Austria – fourth in qualifying group C with 11 points from six games.
Hold that figure in your head.
It’s the same total as both Sweden and Austria have managed, but they sit ahead of us in group C thanks to greater goal difference.
Germany top the pile, unbeaten, on 16 points. They are in pole position and unlikely to be caught.
Gotcha. Go on…
If we are to forget about reeling in Germany and focus on a runners-up spot, we are competing against teams from outside our group as well as in it, innit.
A quick check of the current second placed teams shows that (if Ireland were currently in second place rather than Austria) we would be the seventh* of the nine second placed sides.
However, we’re dangerously close to quantum mechanics now, so let’s get on to the football.
How do we get to Brazil?
Ireland’s aim this week is very simple: six points.
That would put us at least three points ahead of both Sweden and Austria with two games (away to Germany and home to Kazakhstan) remaining. The ‘at least’ in that sentence assumes an away win for Austria in Germany and a win for Sweden in Kazakhstan. So, in the (unlikely) best case scenario, Ireland could be six points clear of our rivals for second place by this time next week.
Now to to the worst case scenario: Defeat to Sweden, even assuming Austria do not beat Germany, would give them all the impetus in the group and leave Ireland needing a win in Vienna to stand any chance of qualification.
Halfway house: Going into home and away weeks such as this, four points is always viewed as an acceptable outcome and this time is no different. Three points at home to Sweden would put pressure on them on a long trip east and, depending on events in Munich, Ireland could go to Vienna in search of a draw already in second position. A point there would be a huge dent in Austrian hopes.
A point at home to Sweden and a win away in Vienna would likely end Austrian hopes on the night. However, Sweden (with two home ties to finish their campaign) would psychologically be on the front foot.
Stalemate: Two points from two games would put Ireland on 13 points but resting hope on results elsewhere.
Austria could win in Munich and Sweden could take all three points from Astana leaving us two points adrift with a trip to Germany to look forward to. Turn those wins to draws and all three sides would be back to square one, but on 13 points and with two games to play.
Home wins for Germany and Kazakhstan would leave us clear in second place, but dangerously close to being the runner up with the lowest points total.
Now that that’s cleared up, do you think Ireland will qualify for the World Cup?