Explained: What Northern Ireland need to do to beat Germany or the Netherlands to Euro 2020 qualification
Northern Ireland are about to begin the rather more daunting second half of their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.
After four consecutive wins over Belarus and Estonia, it's on to the toughies; Germany and the Netherlands.
It begins with the Germans' visit to Belfast on Monday evening. So what are the chances of securing an automatic place at the finals next year?
1. How many teams go straight through?
The top two sides in each group qualify automatically for the Euro 2020 finals. So Northern Ireland are going to have to split the two giants or rely on a play-off - more on that later.
2. How does the group currently stand?
Northern Ireland are top of Group C at the midway point with a maximum 12 points gained. Germany are on their tails, just three behind while the Netherlands are on six points but have played a game less.
3. Can we assume anything to make the calculations easier?
You should never assume anything. But for the sake of these predictions, I'm going to. Let's take it for granted that both Germany and the Netherlands take maximum points from their games against the bottom two seeds; Estonia and Belarus. That brings Germany to 15 points and the Netherlands to 15 points also.
4. So what are the games that are going to decide the top two places?
September 9: Northern Ireland v Germany
October 10: Netherlands v Northern Ireland
November 16: Northern Ireland v Netherlands
November 19: Germany v Northern Ireland
5. What do Northern Ireland need to do to qualify automatically?
Just to reiterate, this is all providing our assumption in point three comes true. That granted, there are two ways Northern Ireland can qualify automatically.
A. Take four points from one other nation: Should Northern Ireland manage to take a win and a draw against one of the other contenders, it would be enough to go through. For example, if Michael O'Neill's men beat Germany in Belfast and go on to draw the final game in Frankfurt, they would be level on points with the Germans on 16. As head to head record is used to separate the sides, Northern Ireland would progress.
The same applies if Northern Ireland get a win and a draw against the Netherlands.
B. Beat Germany and the Netherlands and rely on goal difference: If Northern Ireland can manage to get one win against Germany and one win against the Netherlands, all three teams would finish on 18 points. That would turn the qualification contest into a battle of the sides' goal differences in the mini-league considering the games between the three teams. Currently, the Netherlands are +1 and Germany -1 in games between the teams. Sure wouldn't it be nice just to have to do the maths come November 19th?
It's worth noting that: The Netherlands' 4-2 win over Germany on Friday didn't help. Had they been beaten, a single win over Virgil Van Dijk's side, or two draws, would have been enough to see Northern Ireland through.
6. What are the chances of getting into a play-off then?
What, you mean you're not confident of one of the above two scenarios coming off?
The silver lining is Northern Ireland are all but sure to get a play-off. Click below for all the reasoning on that one.
Belfast Telegraph Digital