SportSoccer

Ireland's potential Euro 2016 play-off rivals

SoccerBy Kevin Palmer
Jon Walters will miss the first leg of the play-off through suspension
Jon Walters will miss the first leg of the play-off through suspension

It seemed as if the Republic of Ireland were on course to be seeded in the draw for the Euro 2016 play-offs, but that hope has been seriously dented in recent days.

The 2-1 defeat against Poland on Sunday night may have ended our hopes of automatic qualification for the finals in France next summer and we need now look to be handed a tricky play-off rival to compound our misery.

Martin O'Neill's men looked to be in good shape to secure a top four seeding spot in the play-off draw heading into the final round of matches, but results have not gone Ireland's way across Europe in recent days. 

With two days of matches left to play, Ireland are the sixth highest ranked team in the play-off mix after Denmark and Bosnia were thrown into the mix over the last few days, with Holland still a potential opponent if they can claim third spot in their group.

Among the results that have affected the rankings in recent days, Israel’s shock defeat at home to Cyprus on Saturday night and Bosnia’s success in beating Wales were outcomes that were a blow to Ireland’s hopes of a securing a seeding.

Sweden’s third place finish in Group I was another setback for Ireland, with Albania’s success in sealing automatic qualification ensuring a team that would have been ranked below us in the play-off draw were taken out of that equation.

Holland could yet be high profile play-off rivals for Ireland if they can beat the Czech Republic on Tuesday night and Turkey lose at home to Iceland, yet the Turks must be favouirtes to seal third spot in Group A after a troubled qualifying campaign to the Dutch.

Plenty of eyes will be on Spain’s trip to Ukraine on Monday night, with the defending European champions looking to deny their hosts automatic qualification that would ensure they are thrown into the play-off mix.

If Ukraine were to slip up against Spain, Slovakia could be confirmed as the second team to secure automatic qualification in Group C.

There could yet be a final twist in Group H, with Norway heading to Italy on Tuesday needing a result to secure the second automatic qualifying berth in their pool, with Croatia keen to ensure they beat Malta to give themselves a chance of getting into second spot.

Norway are currently ranked below Ireland by UEFA’s ranking system, but not even a slip from the Scandinavians would appear to be enough to propel Ireland into a seeded berth.

It all adds up to a scenario that is likely to see Ireland play the first leg of their Euro 2016 play-off in Dublin in the second week of November, with the second leg played away from home a week later. 

As it stands right now, these are the teams who are set to be in the play-off mix (UEFA ranking in brackets):

Ukraine (9)

Croatia (13)

Bosnia (14)

Sweden (18)

Denmark (20)

Ireland (21)

Turkey (25)

Slovenia (28)