Never ones to do things the easy way, even when Ireland’s group destiny is in their hands, they’ll need a bit of help to make the playoffs.
The fact that only eight of the nine runners-up will be making it to Russia, coupled with the fact that the Boys in Green are perilously close to that pool, made for a very nervous weekend not just in Ireland’s group but in at least one other.
Fortunately, things were made a little clearer on Thursday night as three groups played out a round of fixtures, including one that could now have direct consequences for Ireland (and Wales).
That was Group F, and while the big story from that was England securing top spot in the group with a late 1-0 win at home to Slovenia, Scotland’s 1-0 win at home to Solvakia, which also came late on courtesy of a Martin Skrtel own goal, has put the cat among the pigeons regarding the playoff spots.
Put simply, Ireland needed Scotland to win. Gordon Strachan’s side now move into second place in that group, two points clear of Slovakia and one win away from sealing a playoff place.
However, this is where Irish support of Scotland ends as, because the runners-up ‘league table’ doesn’t take into account results against the sixth-ranked sides in the respective groups, if Scotland fail to beat Slovenia on Sunday, and Ireland win their final two matches this weekend, Ireland will finish ahead of them regardless of what happens anywhere else.
That’s the long and the short of it right now, but alternative pathways (such as in Bosnia & Herzegovina’s group) will either be blown wide open or closed off before the final round of games take place.
That’s for another day, but for now Ireland’s primary focus will be securing those precious six points to keep their World Cup hopes alive.