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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Pot four status for Ireland not so fab

Martin O'Neill
Martin O'Neill

LIAM Brady is good at many things, but maths, it seems, is not his strong point.

After Ireland's draw with Scotland last month, Brady predicted that Ireland would miss out on a place at Euro 2016 despite the expansion of the tournament, as "there are 24 teams in Europe that are better than us".

Sadly, Liam was wrong. If the stats are to believed, Ireland (rated 52d in the world) are only ranked as the 32nd-best nation of the 53 countries in Europe.

The grim reality of the Republic's current status in the world and European game hit home in the last 24 hours when FIFA issued their world rankings for July - an important event for all countries as those latest rankings will be used to decide the pots for the World Cup qualifying draw, held in Russia later this month.

And the bad news is Ireland will now be fourth seeds for World Cup 2018, in with some countries from the old eastern bloc who are still waiting to do something of note (Estonia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Montenegro), others who have been treading water for years (Turkey, Israel, Norway).

Oh, and the Faroe Islands. Because that's the level the Republic of Ireland are at now and confirmation of our status as fourth seed for the draw in St Petersburg on July 25th makes the road to qualification for Russia 2018 more and more painful.

The financial sins of a national from a decade ago are being raked over again this week, a time when, we are told, "we all partied".

In football terms, ten years ago Ireland was indeed partying while many of our rivals were stuck at home, sitting in the dark.

FIFA's ranking system for national teams is notoriously hard to figure out (despite not winning a game last month, Ireland moved up eight places, to 52nd in the world).

relief

And as an FAI delegation (including Martin O'Neill) prepares to head for Russia for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers draw, there will be some (very minor) relief in Abbotstown that the Republic's side have moved away from the lower regions of the rankings (we were 67th in the world two years ago) and are now within spitting distance of the top 50.

Oh, how times change.

As a snapshot, the FIFA rankings for December 2005 made good reading for Irish eyes and very grim for our neighbours. Despite a failed bid to reach the 2006 World Cup, Ireland were ranked 24th in the world at the end of Brian Kerr's reign and we were well ahead of our neighbours and rivals.

But, as Brian Cowen this week tries to explain what happened in 2008, in football terms the bill has come in and Ireland are the hungover ones struggling to pay while other nations have deep pockets and clear heads and in St Petersburg for the World Cup draw at the end of the month, Ireland will be in pot four, a grim prospect for our qualification chances.

Wales (were 71st in 2005) are now 10th in the world; Northern Ireland (were 103rd) are now 37th, Iceland (were 94th) are now 23rd in the world and Ireland are now around the level of the Faroes (74th in the world now, 132nd in 2005).

The likes of Slovakia, Albania and Hungary have long since outpaced Ireland, Iceland are a model for how a country with a tiny population (smaller than County Cork) and a weak domestic league can prosper, and now the Faroes are catching up. Grim times.

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