After a evening of high drama in Cardiff the Republic of Ireland have given themselves a real chance of reaching the World Cup by earning a play-off spot.

This past week or so has seen the statisticians fully flexing their grey matter when figuring out the  permutations with regard to which second-placed teams in qualifying will reach the play-offs.

Thankfully, at this remove the picture is a lot clearer as to the opposition Martin O'Neill's troops might face over two legs in the period from the 9-14 November

We do know that Ireland will be unseeded for the draw which will take place on Tuesday next at 1pm, Irish time.

The seeded teams are Italy, Croatia, Denmark and Switzerland. 

In assessing the quartet, Irish fans would probably favour a meeting with Denmark or Switzerland.

Speaking on RTÉ television after the win over Wales, Eamon Dunphy was relishing the prospect of James McClean putting it up to Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal, but their subsequent 2-0 victory over the Swiss sent them straight through to Russia.

With a week to go before we know exactly who stands between the Republic of Ireland and a place at Russia 2018, let's cast an eye over the possible opponents


It only seems like only yesterday since Robbie Brady headed home from Wes Hoolahan's brilliant pass to give the Irish a famous win over the Italians at Euro 2016. Well, it was 22 June last year on a humid night in Lille.

Cast your minds back even further and to the qualifying for World Cup 2010. There was little to separate the sides in the 1-1 draw in Bari and the subsequent 2-2 draw at Croke Park.

The Azzurri came in behind Spain in Group G, with their only defeat coming against the Spaniards. Their finish to the group was less than inspiring following a draw at home to Macedonia and then struggling to take care of Albania on their travels.

Typical, Italy, you would say in advance of major tournaments.

Indeed, not only is the pressure on them to make Russia, but after below-par performances at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, their fans will demand that they reach the business end of next summer's renewal.

Gianluigi Buffon is the sole survivor from the side that won the 2006 World Cup. In front of him is a defence that, in the true tradition of Italian football, remains solid.

Marco Verratti

Marco Verratti has emerged as a key player in the middle of the feld, while Simone Zaza, Graziano Pelle and Eder are the players up front entrusted with finding the net.

Italy are managed by 68-year-old Giampiero Ventura, who has vast experience managing in Serie A and the lower tiers of Italian football.


The Croats were one of the stories at France 98 where they finished third in their first appearance at a World Cup finals. Less than two months later, Irish fans got to see them up close and personal in a Euro 2000 qualifier.

Goals from Denis Irwin and Roy Keane, both within 15 minutes of the kick-of, saw Mick McCarthy's side record a comfortable victory. Croatia, however, gained revenge exactly a year later when winning 1-0 in Zagreb, courtesy of Davor Suker's late, late winner. How Mick McCarthy's side survived far so long remains a mystery as they deployed a "car park defending" strategy right from the off.

The last competitive meeting between the sides was at Euro 2012. Poznan witnessed an emphatic 3-1 win for Croatia in what was a tournament to forget for the Irish.

Iceland topped the Group I qualifying, with the Croats taking second spot, three points clear of Ukraine.

Luka Modric

Familiar names in the shape of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakatic, Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic give testament to Croatia's ability and they would represent sticky opponents for the Irish.

They've had problems off the pitch however and in a managerial change after their penultimate qualifier against Finland, Zlatko Dalic replaced Ante Cacic. Dalic recently coached UAE club Al-Ain, who he led to the Asian Champions League final last year.


Denmark coach Age Hareide 

The Danes famously "came off the beach" and stunned everybody when winning Euro 92. In the subsequent qualifiers for USA 94 they were in a group alongside Jack Charlton's Republic of Ireland. A 0-0 scoreline in Copenhagen was followed by a 1-1 draw at Lansdowne Road.

Crucially, Alan McLoughlin's goal against Northern Ireland in Belfast, and the point earned, was the difference as the Irish headed Stateside instead of the Danes.

Denmark only found Poland too good in Group E and sealed a play-off berth following their draw at home to Romania in Sunday.

Christian Eriksen

Russia 2018 would represent a fifth finals appearance for a side where Christian Eriksen pulls the strings. Kasper Schmeichel, Michael Krohn-Dehli, Simon Kjaer and Nicklas Bendtner also give Denamrk a vitalilty that makes them danagerous opponents for any opposition in November.

Former Norway manager Age Hareide is their coach and has won league titles in all of the Scandinavian countries.


The Swiss have been the rock that two Irish managers have perished on. Mick McCarthy's last game in charge  was a 2-1 defeat against Switzerland in a Euro 2004 qualifier in October 2002.

A scoreless draw against the same opposition - an outcome that saw Ireland miss out on the 2006 World Cup - ended Brian Kerr's time at the helm three years later

With ten appearances at football's biggest event, Switzerland could be deemed part of the elite. They hosted the tournament in 1954, getting as far as the quarter-finals.

With nine wins from nine before they travelled to Portugal for the group's final game, they have certainly shown their intent in this qualifying campaign.

Granit Xhaka in action against the Republic of Ireland in 2016 

Granit Xhaka and Ricardo Rodriguez were part of the Swiss side that won the U17 World Cup and, along with others from that side, are now mainstays in this senior team.

Xherdan Shaqiri, presently with Stoke City, is a key player in the midfield. Tranquillo Barnetta, Gokhan Inler and Stephan Lichtsteiner add the requisite experience.

Vladimir Petkovic is the Swiss manager and guided Lazio to an Italian Cup success in 2013.