As I write this piece the Irish team are preparing for a showdown encounter with Austria in Qualifying Group C of the FIFA World Cup. On the balance of things, it is highly unlikely the Boys in Green will travel to Brazil and Austria could bring the curtain down on any slim chances of qualification.
The inquest has already begun with many questioning the manager. However, let’s not forget, Ireland travelled to Poland last year as the only 3rd seed in the qualification groups for Euro 2012. In fact, our seeding in the group stages over the past 24 years has made things difficult for incumbent managers.
The table aside provides an overview of Irish performances against the top ranked countries in each qualification group post Euro ’88. The list includes games against the 1st and 2nd seeds in each group, or 3rd seeds if Ireland were ranked as 1st or 2nd seed.
If the away record is bad, the recent trend in home performance is even worse. Ireland have not beaten a 1st, 2nd or 3rd seed at home since Jason McAteer’s goal in 2001 saw us see off the Netherlands! In fact, since 1988 just 8 games have been won out of a possible 51 against the ‘top’ seeded teams.
It’s clear the team draws far too many games as well. More than half (54.9%) have ended level against teams seeded 1st, 2nd and 3rd in qualification groups since 1990. And there’s the problem. It’s better to beat a team at home and lose away, than draw twice with them. Ireland seems to specialise in the latter.
As long as our miserable record against top ranked teams continues it is not realistic for the Irish public to expect qualification to any major championships. In fact, it’s amazing that we could finish second in qualification for Euro 2012 without beating a team ranked above us in four games!