It could have been worse.
Stephen Kenny’s Republic of Ireland side have been placed in one of the five-team groups for the FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifiers. The draw was made in Zurich on Monday evening with Ireland coming out of Pot 3 to join Portugal, Serbia, Luxembourg and Azerbaijan in Group A.
While games against Azerbaijan and Luxembourg will be seen as must-wins, Serbia and defending European champions Portugal will be no pushovers.
Ireland will need to finish second in the group to have any chance of making the playoffs as a third-place spot will not suffice given our Nations League ranking. Even at that, the sides heading to the playoffs will face multiple semi-final/final fixtures to join the outright qualifiers.
Portugal were part of Ireland’s World Cup 2002 qualifying group with both the home and away fixtures in 2000 and 2001 respectively ending 1-1. An Andy O’Brien goal proved the difference in a friendly in 2005 but in our last encounter in 2014, Martin O’Neill’s side came of the bad side of a 5-1 scoreline.
Against Serbia, Ireland have yet to win a game, having drawn three and lost two including our latest encounter in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. We’re five for five against Luxembourg but have yet to play Azerbaijan in a friendly or competitive senior fixture.
How did the neighbours do?
Elsewhere, Northern Ireland are facing a tough campaign, finding themselves alongside Italy, Switzerland, Bulgaria and Lithuania.
England will have to deal with Robert Lewandowski having been drawn alongside Poland, Hungary, Albania, Andorra and San Marino – a group they should be expected to top.
Wales join top-ranked Belgium in Group E alongside Czech Republic, Belarus and Estonia, while Scotland will face Denmark, Austria, Israel, Faroe Islands and Moldova.
World Cup Qualifying Draw (Europe in full)
- Group A: Portugal, Serbia, Republic of Ireland, Luxembourg, Azerbaijan
- Group B: Spain, Sweden, Greece, Georgia, Kosovo
- Group C: Italy, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, Bulgaria, Lithuania
- Group D: France, Ukraine, Finland, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kazakhstan
- Group E: Belgium, Wales, Czech Republic, Belarus, Estonia
- Group F: Denmark, Austria, Scotland, Israel, Faroe Islands, Moldova
- Group G: Netherlands, Turkey, Norway, Montenegro, Latvia, Gibraltar
- Group H: Croatia, Slovakia, Russia, Slovenia, Cyprus, Malta
- Group I: England, Poland, Hungary, Albania, Andorra, San Marino
- Group J: Germany, Romania, Iceland, North Macedonia, Armenia, Liechtenstein
The first set of fixtures, three games in all, will take place between 24-31 March 2021.