Ireland are nicely placed at the halfway stage of their FIFA World Cup Qualifying campaign, where they are second in Group D and level on points with leaders Serbia. The nation that tops the standings at the end of the campaign will qualify automatically for the tournament in Russia in 2018, while the eight runner-ups who have the highest points advance into the playoffs.
The last time Ireland qualified for a World Cup was in 2002 in South Korea and Japan, where they went out in the last 16. Managed at the time by Mick McCarthy, they finished second in Group E behind Germany on five points but then fell agonisingly to Spain in a penalty shoot-out after a 1-1 draw following 120 minutes of play.
Martin O’Neill’s side picked up a solid point in the opening game of their World Cup qualifying campaign when they drew 2-2 with Serbia in Belgrade. Daryl Murphy’s first goal for Ireland was enough to bring the scores level with ten minutes to play. The Boys in Green then followed that result up with wins over Georgia, Moldova and Austria to leave them nicely placed.
Ireland returned to action in March, after four months off, when they hosted Wales at the Aviva Stadium. They were unable to break down a stubborn Chris Coleman side who were down to ten 10 men in the second half as the game ended goalless. That result leaves Wales with a mountain to climb if they are to finish in the top two at the end of the standings.
O’Neill’s men will not feature now until the domestic football finishes in May. They will travel to Mexico early in June for a friendly and then meet Uruguay in another tough test just days later. Their next game in Group E is at home to Austria, who are four points behind Ireland. Their crunch tie in qualification for Russia is likely to come in their last game of the campaign when they meet Serbia in Dublin. That fixture could determine who picks up the automatic spot at the World Cup in 2018.
Following such gruelling qualifying campaigns, most players and fans alike will welcome the opportunity to grab a little downtime. That being said, some simply can’t get enough of the beautiful game; thankfully for those, football is also embedded within our pop culture. For example, the FIFA video game series remains endearingly popular even during the off-seasons; while the iGaming industry has also embraced the sport. Casino operators such as Guts now offer a number of football-themed slot titles, such as Football Star and Football: Champions Cup. But who are the bigger online sportsbook players, British or Irish people?
In the sports betting, Ireland can be backed at 2/1 to win Group D, while they are odds-on now at 8/11 for a top two finish. Those punters who are predicting a fairytale World Cup next year are able to punt on Ireland at 500/1 in the outright market for the trophy in Russia. The favourites for the tournament, at the time of writing, are Germany who are 5/1 to defend the crown they won Brazil in 2014.