- 18 Sep 15
The boys in green have a glimmer of hope when it comes to Euro 2016 qualification. But we're not there yet. Not by a long shot...
We're back in business, then, as Marty’s Army close in on that golden ticket to Euro 2016. If you overlook the small matter of how horrendously we’re playing, it was an auspicious enough week’s work for the Republic, restored to pole position in the hunt for a play-off place, largely as a result of events elsewhere.
I alluded to this possibility back in June, when amidst the general gnashing of teeth and mass renditions of ‘It’s Over’ which greeted our failure to make hay at home to the Scots, a consensus swept the land that our qualifying campaign was effectively dead in the water. In fact there was still a shed-load of football to be played, and I seem to recall suggesting at the time that we’d manage to overcome whatever Gibraltar and Georgia had to throw at us, while our rivals would in all likelihood drop points somewhere along the line, restoring us to some sort of contention, at which point the entire crazy build-us-up-knock-ourselves-down cycle would kick off all over again.
If ever there was an occasion to intone ‘fuck the performance and count the points’, the home game with Georgia was surely it. Seriously, have Ireland ever played such bad football (Have you forgotten Trap? – Sub Ed)?
The match was a gruelling 90-minute venture into football’s torture chamber, a dungeon of psychological horrors. I had of course decided in advance that I’d bite my own hand off for a pig-ugly 1-0 win: which is exactly what transpired.
It was a display which begged serious reflection about whether qualifying for the Euros at all would be wise, in view of the carnage that unfolded in Poland three years ago; but enough of such morbid thoughts for now.
Events elsewhere overtook us somewhat, with our Scots cousins trousering precisely zero points from jousts with Georgia and Germany. This leaves them in fourth place, four points adrift of our good selves, with everyone beginning to run out of games. Indeed, the table right now makes for superficially encouraging reading, until you examine the small print: to wit, remaining fixtures and head-to-head records. The harsh reality is that we may still have a mountain to climb.
Scotland’s unerring ability to make a pig’s genitalia of even the most straightforward fixtures has long been the stuff of legend, but I think we can all accept that they will have enough about them to claim all three points from the upcoming UK Derby with Gibraltar. Truth be told, Ireland’s ultimate fate again looks likely to be very much at the mercy of our old friend Events Elsewhere. Right now, the fixture which looks likeliest to determine how we spend next summer is a match which doesn’t involve us: the meeting of Scotland and Poland, in Glasgow in October.
We have two fixtures left, with Germany set to visit Dublin (I might remind you that they won 6-1 on their last visit, a scoreline which actually flattered Ireland) three days before we venture over to chilly Warsaw.
We will be thoroughly-deserved underdogs for both encounters. Indeed, in normal circumstances, a return of two points would seem perfectly acceptable. But the frightening thing is that if Scotland do the business at home to the Poles, two points won’t be good enough. We took a grand total of one point from our two clashes with Scotland: this loomed large at the time as a failure with potentially disastrous consequences, and all the more so now.
Looking at Germany’s recent visit to Glasgow, there was plenty about Scotland’s play to admire. They rattled the back of the world champions’ net twice, whereas all known recent evidence suggests we would struggle to even mount an incursion into German territory without tripping over our own feet. And it still wasn’t enough; they came away empty-handed. All basic footballing logic points to Germany handing us our arses; but, striking an optimistic pose for argument’s sake, let’s say we take a draw from the meeting.
The alarming reality is that this will be of very little use to us if (and it is, of course, a big i) Scotland manage to beat Poland. This combination of results would leave us heading to Warsaw in need of nothing less than a win, and you probably don’t need me to depress you any further with statistical evidence of our shocking impotence away from home against any half-decent teams over the last dozen years or so.
And yet, if you were forced to call the outcome with a gun to the head, you wouldn’t exactly back the Scots to hold up their end of the bargain. If they don’t account for the Poles, one measly point from our final two games will be sufficient to ensure a play-off spot. Bizarrely, a scenario could easily materialise whereby Germany stomp into town and run rings, squares and parallelograms around us, thumping us 7-0, before we trek to Poland for a match where both teams are extremely happy in advance with a point: it would book the Poles’ automatic ticket in second place, and grant us the third-placed spot we’ve more or less prayed for since June.
In that instance, even Ireland ought to be fancied to get over the line (and, cutting the doom and gloom for a minute, we might recall that we played bloody well for an hour against the Poles on our own turf and were somewhat unfortunate not to win the match).
It’s never wise to look too far ahead, but a play-off begins to loom increasingly large on the horizon, which could be against anyone from Albania (yes please!) to Holland (does this even bear thinking about?) It’s never dull around here, that’s for sure. Warsaw, here we come.
- Lifestyle & Sports
- 11 Jul 23