The feel-good factor surrounding the Republic of Ireland team has shown no signs of abating, especially after FIFA’s release of the latest world rankings.
One place behind Northern Ireland in 29th place, Martin O’Neill’s side have broken into the top thirty on the back of an impressive back-end to their qualification campaign, ahead of the European Championships in France this summer.
While the relevance of such standings can often be dismissed, there is credibility in the system. Progress is generally rewarded and it is a further reflection of the turnaround O’Neill and his assistant Roy Keane have overseen during their tenure.
With the lacklustre draw against Scotland in June of last year feeling more akin to a defeat, it meant that from six points available from games between the two sides, Ireland only took a single point. While the home victory over Germany was as thrilling as it was unexpected, in reality it was Scotland’s away defeat to Georgia that swung momentum in the Irish team’s favour.
At the time the draw for the European qualification programme took place (February 2014) Ireland were in 67th place. The climb is significant and reflective of the job done. But of greater importance is the sense of worth the rise will give this Irish side.
The feeling around this squad, even at this early stage, is more positive than in the lead up to Euro 2012. While the implosion of four years ago has lowered expectations significantly, there is an underlying feeling that this side will give a better showing.
In the context of Ireland’s Euro 2016 group, Sweden, seen as the team Ireland are most capable of taking points off, have moved down to 35th place in the rankings. Italy maintain their place as the 15th best team in the world while Belgium remain untouched in pole position.
England and Wales are also unchanged at 9th and 17th respectively, while Scotland sit in 46th place. Ironically, despite non-qualification, this is a rise of six places.
Brian Strahan, Pundit Arena