Qatar to join Ireland’s World Cup qualifying group

Ireland will begin qualifying campaign with an away match against Serbia

Qatar forward Hasan Al Haydos with the trophy after last year’s Asian Cup final against Japan. Photograph: Getty Images

Qatar forward Hasan Al Haydos with the trophy after last year’s Asian Cup final against Japan. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Having received a favourable enough draw in the first place, Stephen Kenny is likely to be happy with a World Cup qualifying fixture list that kicks off with a key clash away to likely rivals Serbia on March 24th.

It is a tough start for a side that has struggled in difficult circumstances through its autumn programme, but the overall schedule could well have been less kind and the trip to Belgrade will be immediately followed by home games against Luxembourg and surprise inclusion Qatar.

The World Cup 20222 hosts have been allowed to use the group as preparation for their team who are guaranteed a place at the tournament finals. Their results will not count in any way towards the qualification table and they will play all of their games in Europe with Ireland’s second match against them, scheduled for October 12th, to take place in an as yet unconfirmed European city.

The prospect of Qatar’s involvement was only publically suggested shortly before the fixtures were announced. Kenny had not mentioned it on Monday night when he spoke in the immediate aftermath of the draw with the particular group they would participate in still uncertain at that point, it seems.

Qatar, currently managed by former Barcelona youth coach, Felix Sanchez Bas, won the Asian Cup last year in the UAE where they scored 19 goals and conceded just one, against Japan, in the final, which they won 3-1. Their Sudanese born striker, Almoez Ali, was the tournament’s runaway top scorer with nine goals.

With the summer window set aside for preparatory games for sides competing at the European Championships, Ireland face a six month break from competition after the three games in March but they return to what are likely to be hugely important fixtures against Portugal away then Azerbaijan and Serbia in Dublin.

After a year without travel, supporters are likely to find that away game attractive. With games against Azerbaijan and Qatar in October, the campaign wraps up the following month with the visit of Portugal to the Aviva stadium, just four days short of what will be the 26th anniversary of the 3-0 defeat in Lisbon towards the very end of Jack Charlton’s time in charge, then a trip to Luxembourg for the final game of the campaign on November 14th when tickets could be at a premium in an 8,000 capacity stadium if the stakes are high.

Group A fixtures: March 24th: Serbia (a), 27th: Luxembourg (h), 30th: Qatar (h). September 1st: Portugal (a), 4th: Azerbaijan (h), 7th: Serbia (h). October: 9th: Azerbaijan (a), 12th: Qatar (a). November: 11th: Portugal (h), 14th: Luxembourg (a).

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