European qualification for the 2018 World Cup in Russia started this weekend. Competition is set to be fierce with just 13 places available for the 54 UEFA members entered in the qualifying round. Gibraltar and Kosovo both compete in World Cup qualifying for the first time. The nine group winners will qualify automatically for the Finals, while the eight best group runners-up will enter a two-legged playoff (as is normal). The four playoff winners will join the nine group winners and head to Russia for June 2018.
The Republic of Ireland have a difficult task ahead of them. Due to the country's UEFA co-efficient at the time of the draw last year, they were placed in seeding Pot 4. In theory, three 'better' teams are in the group. These are Wales (1), Austria (2) and Serbia (3). Moldova and Georgia complete the list.
From an Irish perspective this may not be all that bad. The graphic below plots the FIFA World Ranking of each of the top three seeds and the Republic of Ireland for the past two years.
With a ball yet to be kicked, the Republic of Ireland should enter the qualifying phase in the belief that they can top the group. The country have only achieved this once before (Euro '88 qualifying). This is a great chance to do it for a second time. COYBIG.