The mood in the Republic of Ireland camp may, as you’d expect, still be upbeat despite the points dropped to Poland but any supporters who took particular pleasure from their team having been the only one from this neck of the woods to make it to the World Cup in America in 1994 could do worse than start getting themselves used to the idea that the tables might be turned next summer.
England now look to be virtual certainties to be at the European Championships in France but Northern Ireland and Wales are currently in pretty decent positions to make it too while in Group D, Scotland have a significant advantage over Martin O'Neill's side and, though it counts for little at this stage, presently sit at the top of a tightly packed pile of third-placed teams, a status that would gain them automatic qualification if they could retain it up until the end of the year.
Ireland, meanwhile, are the worst performing second seeds in the competition based on current standing (fourth) in their qualifying group table. They are right down there in terms of points gained too with one more (eight) than Denmark who have played a game less and the same number as Belgium and Hungary.
That, though, is scarcely the story of qualifying so far for while England have lived up to their billing as qualification favourites and, with five wins from five, are currently shaping up really nicely to disappoint at the finals, just one other top seed, Portugal, currently lead their group. Fernando Santos’s side having bounced back from an opening night home defeat by Albania with rather more impressive performances away to Denmark and at home to Serbia (0-1 and 2-1 respectively).
Three of the competition’s other big beasts – Spain, Germany and Italy – are well placed to assert themselves over the second half of the campaign with the world champions, in particular, likely to regard their defeat by group leaders (and the competition’s top scorers to date) Poland in Warsaw and concession of a late John O’Shea equaliser against Ireland as aberrations linked in some way to their success in Brazil.
Italian supporters, though, will be a little concerned by less than convincing performances. Antonio Conte’s side was at least eking out wins to start with but, more recently, draws against Croatia and Bulgaria have left June’s trip to Zagreb looking like a very big game.
The Spanish have actually done okay by just about anybody else’s standards but they find themselves eclipsed in Group C by a Slovakia side that, with England, is one of just two teams to have maximum points at this stage.
For the Netherlands, the outlook is not so great. Guus Hiddink’s reputation is taking a bit of battering as his side trails the Czech Republic and Iceland by six and five points respectively. It would have been worse had Klaas-Jan Huntelaar not popped up in the second minute of added time on Saturday in Amsterdam to grab an equaliser against Turkey. Unless they rally strongly over the months ahead, they are likely be one of the nightmare scenarios in the play-offs by which time they may well be under new management.
The two top seeds to really implode, though, are Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece, the 2004 champions of Europe who have qualified for the each of the last five major tournaments and generally made it past the group stage
Quite who thought Claudio Ranieri was the man to carry on the work started by Otto Rehhagel and Fernando Santos is anybody's guess but the Italian was shown the door after a start that included home defeats by Romania, Northern Ireland and, most devastatingly, the Faroe Islands. The Greeks now have two points from five games after a draw in Hungary last time out while the Bosnians have just five from five having kicked off with a home defeat to Cyprus. The most obvious side to profit from that would have been Belgium and a win in Israel this evening would indeed put them top on goal difference but the story of the group so far is Wales with Chris Coleman's side two points clear after their win in Haifa.
Coleman, of course, has
to lead the assault on rivals. Michael O’Neill has
with the 27 year-old striker, currently on loan from Norwich to Caykur Rizespor in Turkey, having scored five of Northern Ireland’s eight goals in the five games played so far.
Neither team, it might be argued, is in as group as tough as Ireland or Scotland’s and the odds are that none will be next time either with the Welsh, Northern Irish and Scots all currently on course to be third seeds for World Cup qualifying as things stand, with the Republic set to start July’s draw in Pot Four.
No pressure then, Martin.