the state of play from Group A to Group J
Mick McCarthy. The job is far from done, and there is little chance of this Ireland team producing a box-office display of total football any time soon, but they nevertheless go into the final three qualifiers sitting top of Group D. McCarthy wears a permanent expression of a manager who’s seen everything in football, but his second spell in charge – keeping the seat warm for Ireland’s under-21 coach Stephen Kenny until 2020 – has been a steady one.
A long-term lack of firepower means no match is a given for the Irish, so next month’s trip to Georgia must be treated with caution. After that, it’s a straight shootout with the Danes and the Swiss for the two automatic qualifying spots – McCarthy, no doubt after a heavy sigh, will cross his fingers and hope Ireland hang in there.
What Ireland must do to qualify
Hold their nerve. A useful draw against Switzerland in Dublin was followed by Denmark helpfully dropping points against Georgia. All three sides play each other again before qualifying is decided, but it will be nip and tuck: each of the three reverse fixtures ended in draws.