Coming into Euro 2020 qualification, the group assignment for the Republic of Ireland could have been worse, but could have been better as well. With a mixture of strong sides and minnows on the team’s fixture list, where Ireland fell in the heirarchy was anyone’s guess. But the team has got off to a flying start, to the point that the team could end up winning their qualification group. Could Ireland catch the attention of some opponents and finish top of qualifying Group D?
If nothing else, Ireland got off to a great head start against the rest of their competition in the group. They racked up 10 points in their first four matches, sweeping Gibraltar and beating Georgia while splitting points with Denmark in their first meeting. That start has the team and its supporters hoping for another case where Ireland surprises people in the European football world. But with a draw against Switzerland and a rematch on the horizon, their position is anything but secure.
While Swiss star Xherdan Shaqiri’s issues in club football have been well documented, he is still incredibly dangerous to a team like Ireland. Looking at the squad named for the next match, Ireland might have to hope for Shaqiri’s club drama to get in the way of his performances as there aren’t many players who stand out as able to stop one of the best players in the European qualifiers overall.
Making matters worse is the fact that one of Ireland’s young stars, Troy Parrott, is now dealing with injuries that could prevent him from starting his senior team career. While it was unlikely he would have been in the squad for the upcoming qualifier, the option to get one of Ireland’s uncapped impact players into the fold for the team could have been a nice option against a team like the Swiss that have an attack that needs to be matched.
But the threat of players like Shaqiri combined with some concerns with some of the up and coming Irish stars shouldn’t result in panic for fans of Irish football. After all, the squad has a two-point advantage over the rest of the group heading into the next round of qualifying matches. And with the team only having conceded two goals for the entirety of the qualification campaign thus far, it’s possible that Ireland can hold Switzerland and Denmark at bay to hold onto their top spot.
Also inspiring confidence is the fact that Ireland have a large percentage of their starting lineup playing Premier League football during the 2019-2020 season. And with the Premier League boasting the defending European champions in Liverpool, the defending Europa League holders in Chelsea, and one of the best clubs the sport has ever seen in Manchester City, teams like Switzerland and Denmark aren’t likely to scare the team’s Premier League players.
That experience at the highest level of club football is such an advantage when it comes to international competition. That is due to the fact that the teams from top to bottom aren’t as strong in international play as they are in club football action. While players like Shaqiri or Denmark’s Christian Eriksen are typically flanked by star players with their clubs, they are surrounded by players from their countries only, which makes stopping them a more attainable goal when they play for their countries.
Granted, even if Ireland is able to win their qualifying group, they still have a long road ahead of them in the Euro 2020 tournament should they qualify. As of September 23, Ireland’s Euro 2020 tournament winner odds sat at 150/1. With elite teams like Spain and Germany along with defending world champions France, Ireland wouldn’t be expected to perform as well in the Euros as they are in qualifying.
But you can’t perform well in the tournament if you don’t qualify for the tournament. And right now, Ireland is heading in the right direction to qualify for the tournament. If they can earn a point against Switzerland and complete the sweep of Georgia in October, the job will likely be done. And, from there, anything can happen, as recent tournaments have shown with runs by teams like Wales and Croatia becoming commonplace at the highest levels of the international game.