Ireland's World Cup qualifying fixtures confirmed
Ireland's 2018 World Cup qualifying fixtures have been confirmed.
Three of Ireland's first four fixtures will be away from home, beginning with a tough trip to Serbia.
Just like with the Euro 2016 fixtures, Ireland will then face back-to-back home games in March and June, when they will host Wales and Austria respectively.
Ireland's potentially crucial final game of the group will be away to top seeds Wales on 9 October 2017.
September 5: (a) v Serbia
October 6: (h) v Georgia
October 9: (a) v Moldova
November 12: (a) v Austria
March 24: (h) v Wales
June 11: (h) v Austria
September 2: (a) v Georgia
September 5: (h) v Serbia
October 6: (h) v Moldova
October 9: (a) v Wales
“I’m happy with the group,” said O’Neill immediately after the draw ceremony.
“But then I suspect Wales, Austria and Serbia are too.
“It’s the sort of group where teams are going to take points off each other,” added the Irish boss, “and it will be very exciting for the fans and a great football challenge too.
“It’s still a good way off and I’ll be keeping an eye on Serbia especially.
“They threw away qualification for the last World Cup late on in the series of matches,” added the Derryman, “they are a very good side with lots of young talent.
“But all in all I’m very happy with the Group, it gives us a big chance of getting to a World Cup.”
O’Neill has not committed to managing Ireland’s bid to get to Russia, indeed he may not be wanted if Ireland’s Euro 2016 challenge implodes.
But this qualifying group might tempt the 62-year-old into staying on if we make even a decent run at getting to the Euros.
Welsh boss Chris Coleman is delighted with the draw.
“It’s a juicy draw,” said Coleman, “I’ve got 100 per cent belief in our players against anyone.
“The other teams will be looking at us and they wont be looking forward to coming to Cardiff.
“I don’t think there’s an international team on the planet at the moment that would want to play us in Cardiff as it’s a fortress.
“I cant say that I was shaking no matter who came out of the pot as I firmly believe we’re a match for anyone.
“The Ireland match is going to be a derby game and the atmosphere will be great when it comes around.”
Chris Coleman believes Wales have turned Cardiff into a fortress
Former Ireland star Kevin Moran was delighted with the draw. “I IMAGINE every Irish international football player is buzzing this morning as they look at our qualifying group for the 2018 World Cup.
"We’re not guaranteed to get out of it, not by a long way.
“However we have a chance and, as a fourth seed, we could not have asked for anything more from the draw in Moscow last night.
“Would the Irish lads want to be in Group G with Spain and Italy, or Group A with Holland and France?
"Not on your life!
“But this winnable one gives us a chance, no doubt about it.
“We won’t be afraid of playing Wales or Austria, just as they won’t worry about us. When we do face them it will all be down to who handles the occassion better on the night.
“Yes, bagging the Serbians as the third seed was a bit of a bummer, but I’ll settle for that because we did very well from Pots 1 and 2.”
Former Irish striker Clinton Morrison was equally enthused by the draw, with every side presumably quite happy with their lot.
“It’s a difficult group. I knew we’d get one of the home nations,” said Morrison.
“It’s a difficult group. It was always going to be difficult... we played Georgia and claimed a narrow win.
“Those kind of places are hard to go.
“Hopefully by the time they (the matches) come around, we’ll be ready.
“[Martin O’Neill] will be very happy. There are a lot of harder teams they could have got, but Wales will be favourites.
“The Irish fans will be happy with that and the Irish will be looking at ways to stop Aaron Ramsey.”