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Thursday 8 December 2016

O'Neill braced for a tough draw

Ireland boss finds World Cup seedings system 'a bit strange'

Ireland manager Martin O’Neill is in St Petersburg for today’s FIFA World Cup 2018 draw.
Ireland manager Martin O’Neill is in St Petersburg for today’s FIFA World Cup 2018 draw.
FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valckes speaks as FIFA Director of Communications Nicolas Maingot looks on during a press conference ahead of the preliminary draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at Konstantin Palace, St Petersburg, Russia.

Martin O'Neill is puzzled about the World Cup. At least, he's puzzled by elements of the process which brings him to St Petersburg for today's draw as manager of a team in the dreaded fourth pot.

O'Neill can't really understand why the draw is being made so early and why the seeding includes results from the Euro 2016 qualifying series which is still under way.

""I am just a bit concerned that the World Cup draw is being made without the UEFA campaign being finished," said O'Neill. "The seeding system is something that I find a bit strange as our competition is slightly mid-stream or above it with 6 out of 10 games gone, and that you can jump so greatly for a number of reasons.

Credit

"Wales, great credit to them, well done to them, to go from sixth to first, I would have thought that that would have been really difficult to do but well done them. They beat Belgium, who are so highly rated, and it gives you x-number of points, I'm not exactly sure.

"We have a young statistician in the offices of the FAI who has shown me umpteen pieces of paper of how the these things can work and at the end of it he even has Marlyn Monroe coming back to life again, so anything can work. He is very good, brilliant but it's too much for me!

"If teams can actually jump-up and down as much, for instance, as Wales have done from sixth to first in a competition - yes, they are going to qualify - that is not over yet.

"And if FIFA do make some judgements from UEFA and your friendly games then that is something that you would have to have a serious look at and see if friendly games

are that important.

"Results of friendly matches become important which I probably did not realise on day one coming in here.

"But I have often said in the past and I am not really going to change, maybe I am wrong in this, but I would rather play friendly games coming up to competition that are really going to test you."

O'Neill is sanguine about the range of teams that could end up in Ireland's group.

"There are certain teams that you feel are the top sides, I said it at the start, when we had the draw in Nice at the time, Germany are a quality side and eventually, while they might have had hiccups here and there, overall you just know that when the group is finished that Germany will qualify in our group, so that lessens your chances," he said.

"Please, it's not me being pessimistic, absolutely not, we got a draw out there at the end of it all and I feel we're capable of giving them a real proper go when we play them here.

"What we want to be doing is to be in a position to still be qualifying at that stage. But there are certain things you know over a period of time so it kind of slightly lessens your chances. You know that most of the top seeds will be difficult." Despite Wales' remarkable climb in the rankings and elevation to top seed for this draw, O'Neill would not be unhappy to draw them as the top seed in Ireland's group. "Naturally, if you're in the Wales camp at the minute you would be delighted that you've moved up there. It means you avoid certain sides and you are considered.

Qualify

"It's a terrific move by them and I think it might have even surprised the Welsh people that they have gone up so much, particularly since this qualification group is not finished, but they are in a really great position to qualify and the win over Belgium just about cemented it."

"I'm looking forward to the draw to see what it's like, having experienced the one in France where you're sitting and thinking that the ratio to get into other groups that you would have felt you would have a really decent chance was actually quite good, and suddenly we were in the same group (as Germany). If you get a draw like some other teams get then you can get the cigarette out!" he said laughling.

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