The Republic of Ireland will play Scotland at Hampden Park after Scotland’s 1-0 extra-time win over Austria at the same ground last Wednesday night.
The qualifying process, though, remains a complicated one, so here’s an attempt to explain it all.
When is it on and where can I watch it?
The crucial play-off is on at 8pm on Tuesday night and will be live on RTÉ2 with coverage starting at 7.45pm.
Great. So, beat Scotland and the Republic will qualify for the World Cup for the very first time?
Alas, not necessarily.
They are through to one of three European playoff finals — Scotland v the Republic, Portugal v Iceland and Switzerland v Wales — but only the winners of two of those games are assured of qualification.
The three winners will be ranked according to their results in the group stages of the qualifying campaign and in their playoff final, with the top two in that table booking their spot in the finals.
As it stands, Switzerland lead the table with 19 points, Iceland are on 18 and Ireland on 17.
So, for Ireland to make it in to the top two, they would need to win their playoff and for either Switzerland or Iceland to lose. Or ...
Or ... if Switzerland and/or Iceland win their playoffs on penalties, they would only have a point added to their totals because the result would be classified as a draw. So, if Ireland won theirs in 90 minutes or extra-time, they would pick up three points.
What happens if teams are tied on points?
It then goes to goal difference (again, based on results in the group phase and playoff final), then to goals scored, away goals scored, and so on. Ireland are currently level on goal difference with Iceland, three clear of Switzerland, and lead the way on goals scored ... by one.
So, if Ireland finish third in those rankings, that’s the end of the dream?
No! But they’d have to set sail in February for New Zealand, who are co-hosting the World Cup with Australia next summer, to compete in the inter-confederation playoff tournament.
It’s a 10-nation tournament that will determine the final three qualifiers for the World Cup. Ireland, should they end up in tournament, would be top seeds in their group, facing the winners of a game between two lower seeds — win that, and they’ll have qualified.
Do we know the other nine nations yet?
We do — with their world ranking in brackets, they are: Chinese Taipei (38), Chile (39), Thailand (41), Papua New Guinea (49), Paraguay (51), Haiti (56), Panama (57), Cameroon (59) and Senegal (84). Ireland are ranked 26 in the world, but ...
There are no easy games in international football?
Exactly. (Apart from Georgia — 11-0! — in Tallaght.)
It’d be nice to avoid the inter-confederation thingie, though?
It would. So, beat Scotland, hope Switzerland or Iceland slip up and ...
Home and hosed?
Precisely. World Cup qualifying mission accomplished.