The dream - and nightmare - groups facing us in the World Cup draw on Saturday
IRELAND look certain to be handed a tough draw when they find out their fate for the qualifying phase of the 2018 World Cup in St Petersburg next Saturday, with a fourth-placed seeding leaving Martin O'Neill's men in a perilous position.
Squaring off against one of the game's big hitters is inevitable, yet the fear ahead of this draw is that Ireland could end up with two or even three dangerous opponents, in a scenario that could be comparable to the challenging group Ireland were handed for the ongoing Euro 2016 qualifiers.
While our current group containing Poland, Scotland and Joachim Low's Germany has proved to be challenging for O'Neill's side in recent months, they could find themselves plunged into even more choppy waters in the next round of qualifiers.
Seven of the world's current top ten sides in the FIFA rankings could lie in wait from the group of top seeds, with Italy and France among those lurking in the second pool of teams.
Poland, Northern Ireland, Sweden and Ukraine are some of the less attractive options in pot three, with Ireland's status as the 32nd ranked side in Europe meaning they face an uphill struggle to secure a top two finish in their group, which would garner them a play-off place.
(C’mon… we can take this lot!)
(Oh dear… Credit Union loans won’t be needed for the Big Show)
TRAVELLING FANS’ DREAM GROUP:
(Sure it’s only a game… let’s have the craic!)
Not the best of draws from a sporting perspective, but Paris is close to home and offers the opportunity to take your good lady wife away on a romantic break at the time of Ireland's World Cup qualifier. Don't tell her the match is on until you get to the ground.
A nice sunshine break in mid-June or late September to Greece would go down a treat for Irish soccer lovers. With their economy crashing around their ears, they could do with a few thousand tourists dressed in green, white and gold to bolster their bank balance.
Back-to-back away games against Greece and Cyprus at the right time of the year could be billed by travel companies as an idyllic twin centre break that could include a spot of sun bathing, plenty of gargle and a couple of World Cup qualifiers.
Held dear in Irish soccer lovers’ hearts after they pretty much drank the tiny island dry in 1989 when Sunday World columnist John Aldridge scored a brace to secure qualification to Italia ’90. Gets a lot of sun all year, Ryanair flies there, and their beer is always cold. What’s not to like?
Ok, so we have some bad memories from playing them football-wise (the spanking dished out to us in Lisbon in November, 1995, still hurts) but the massive Estadio da Luz was draped all around in Irish flags that night as the Irish took over. Next to Spain, it’s the destination of choice for Irish sun-lovers – it’s virtually a purpose-built holiday destination. Probably worth throwing away three points for!
We’ll get a taste this September, when O’Neill’s men play Gibraltar in Faro on the Algarve.