Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Staunton must get straight to the point

Exactly one century ago, the British Minister of War Lord Haldane made the confident assertion that aeroplanes would never fly, although given that the Wright Brothers had succeeded four years earlier it was a particularly daft observation.

Predictions, as he learned, have a habit of making people look stupid.



Followers of Steve Staunton's Ireland know all about that.



There have been so many twists and turns in this European Championship qualifying Group D that it's very difficult to surmise what lies around the corner.



Assuming anything, is a dangerous business.



Nevertheless, within the Irish camp, there now appears to be a strong awareness of what exactly is required from this double header with Slovakia and the Czech Republic.



For almost six months now, Steve Staunton and his players have been fielding the same core question about this trip. Just how many points would represent an acceptable return from this double header?



The popular consensus is four points, with Shay Given, Andy Reid and Kevin Doyle just three of the players that have stated this to be the minimum requirement.



Clearly, they've acknowledged that it would be very difficult for Stan's men to recover from the setback of losing one of these games -- nay on impossible if it was the Prague encounter.



Ireland trail the Czechs by one point going into this weekend, while holding a four-point cushion over the Slovaks but the latter still have two meetings with San Marino to come.



With all this in mind, and some big clashes to come in October and November, it's worth looking at the state of the play for Ireland in the event of the possible permutations arising from this jaunt.



SIX POINTS [win v Slovakia, win v Czech Republic]



Naturally, the ideal scenario. This is an outcome which would make the purchasing of guidebooks for Austria and Switzerland a worthwhile gamble.



With all these permutations making the presumption that the Czechs will beat San Marino in Serravalle on Saturday [and also Germany to win in Wales on the same day], it would leave Ireland two points clear of the Czechs heading into the final three games of the group.



Given that both Ireland and the Czechs still have to play the Germans, it would leave Staunton's men in a very strong position.



Certainly, fairytale stuff compared to post Nicosia.



Projected Standings -- Germany 22 Ireland 19 Czech Republic 17 Slovakia 12



FOUR POINTS [win v Slovakia, draw v Czech Republic]



Probably the most talked about permutation and one that would be deemed a very favourable return -- although it would still leave Ireland one point behind the Czech Republic going into the final three games.



That would mean that if the Czechs are good enough to beat Slovakia at home and Cyprus away, Ireland would require a victory over table-toppers Germany before hoping that Joachim Loew's side beat the Czechs.



It would definitely rule Slovakia out of the equation completely with Saturday's hosts requiring a 100 per cent finish to the campaign if they are to challenge although it helps that two of their remaining tests are against group minnows San Marino.



Projected Standings -- Germany 22 Czech Republic 18 Ireland 17 Slovakia 12



FOUR POINTS [draw v Slovakia, win v Czech Republic]



After two wins, this is the best possible outcome from this trip.



Sure, Slovakia are not completely out of the hunt for European Championship qualification, but they have a terrible record against the Czech Republic so it would be a surprise if that changed in Prague when they clash in the 'derby' November.



Therefore, taking three points against the Czechs would be far more beneficial with regard to the race for automatic qualification as far as Staunton's Ireland team is concerned as, aside than the German game, it would be a shock if Karel Brueckner's side dropped points in any of their other remaining fixtures.



Consequently, the more that Ireland take off them in the Wednesday meeting the better for us.



In the event of teams being level of points, the head to head record between them is the deciding factor before goal difference comes into it so this eventuality would leave Ireland's fate in their own hands.



Projected Standings -- Germany 22 Ireland 17 Czech Republic 17 Slovakia 13



THREE POINTS [win v Slovakia, loss v Czech Republic]



In this eventuality, we can forget about our qualification hopes.



A loss to the Czechs would leave Ireland trailing second place by four points and with the knowledge that full points from the remaining three games would still be extremely unlikely to be enough.



Projected Standings -- Germany 22 Czech Republic 20 Ireland 16 Slovakia 12



THREE POINTS [loss v Slovakia, win v Czech Republic]



This outcome would really put the cat amongst the pigeons, as the saying goes.



Suddenly, Slovakia would be right back in the picture presuming, as these permutations do, that they beat John Toshack's Wales in Bratislava on Wednesday.



Stan's men would still be in with a chance of taking second place although, again, they would more than likely need to beat Germany at Croke Park and then hope the Germans bounce back to beat the Czechs.



Projected Standings -- Germany 22 Czech Republic 17 Ireland 16 Slovakia 15



TWO POINTS [two draws]



It might be respectable to keep the unbeaten record for this year intact but it would be scant consolation for hopes of qualification.



This outcome would suit the Czechs who would have a comfortable cushion going into the final three games.



If Ireland's game in Bratislava does finish in a draw, it will be interesting to see in what matter the Czechs approach Prague as a draw would not be a disaster for them, despite being on home ground.



Projected Standings -- Germany 22 Czech Republic 18 Ireland 15 Slovakia 13



ONE POINT: [draw v Slovakia, loss v Czechs]

There's nothing positive to say about such a scenario.



The Germans and the Czechs could effectively book their tickets for next summer while the remaining games become mere formalities.



Projected Standings -- Germany 22 Czech Republic 20 Ireland 14 Slovakia 13



ONE POINT [loss v Slovakia, draw v Czechs]



This is pretty much the same scenario.



It would suit the Slovaks more, as they would at least have the prospect of going to Prague later in the group with the chance of overhauling their near neighbours.



That wouldn't concern us though, as we'd be out of the equation.



Projected Standings -- Germany 22 Czech Republic 18 Slovakia 15 Ireland 14



ZERO POINTS [two losses]



This nightmare scenario would ensure, once again, plenty of discussion about the manager's future and his appointment similar to the post Nicosia and Serravalle discussion. For the sake of everybody, let's hope those dark days are behind us.



Projected Standings -- Germany 22 Czech Republic 20 Slovakia 15 Ireland 13

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