The world cup qualifiers are a stressful time for teams all across the globe, but this year in particular has seen heartbreak for 21 of the best and unfortunately, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are among them. Despite the Republic of Ireland climbing up the rankings recently, both teams didn’t perform quite as well as expected. They sprinted into the qualifiers with a wealth of support behind them and were expected to rocket through the ranks and take their well-earned place in the World Cup line up, but those expectations quickly crumbled. The question that remains is this – what went wrong?
Northern Ireland’s fall was perhaps the more painful of the two this year, and here’s why. Thought to be second only to Germany – the previous world champions – the expectations surrounding the Irish Football Association’s prize team were incredibly high and maybe that was why their fall was so harsh.
In previous matches, Northern Ireland showed nothing but skill, confidence and an astute performance every time, but this seemed nothing but a dream during their play-off against Switzerland. Their usual long-ball approach to play was practically useless against their opposition, the Swiss team swooping in and dominating the field. Then, of course, there was that penalty that went on to fill news sites and papers alike for days. In short, a penalty was given to Switzerland after a wrongful accusation of a hand ball on Corry Evans.
Whether the omission of the Swiss penalty could’ve changed Northern Ireland’s fate is a complete ‘what if’ argument that could drive fans crazy. What we can say, however, is that with a little less tentative respect for Switzerland and less reliance on their long-ball style, the match could’ve been very different.
Republic Of Ireland
It’s no secret that Martin O’Neill is fond of his Northern Irish team, but what about the Republic of Ireland? Manager to both, the fault for both of their losses could arguably be put down to his management, but is this actually the case?
The 14th November 2018 will forever have a heavy spot in the minds of the Irish team, as this was the fateful day in which ROI’s World Cup dream was shattered by Denmark in the second leg of their play-offs. The first leg on the 11th resulted in a 0-0 draw between the teams, but their second was a catastrophic loss for the team. The Republic of Ireland’s[RK1] best players didn’t stand a chance against hat-trick winner Christian Eriksen, and with a further penalty goal from Nicklas Bendtner and an accidental own goal from Cyrus Christie, they had a painful 5-1 loss to Denmark.
Maybe it was a lack of practice with attacks that led to this loss, or perhaps it was O’Neill’s focus on results rather than a playing style that worked that led to this year’s catastrophic loss. Whatever the case, the ROI were clearly rusty this year.
As far back as September, the team had failed to qualify automatically, which was quite a shock considering the high expectations the team had behind them for the next World Cup. Their 1-1 draw to Georgia, and a horrible loss of 1-0 on home turf to Serbia came with huge loss not only in ranking, but in morale for the team and for their fans. Minding the estimated billions of Euros spent on gambling both on and offline in Ireland, these matches must have been quite emotionally intense for both, players and bettors. And what made the matters worse was the failure to automatically qualify, leading to their match against Denmark, and so once again we are left with the same ‘what-if’ dilemma we are so horrifically laboured with for Northern Ireland.
A Few Honourable Mentions[RK2]
While the two Irish teams have certainly left fans with tears in their eyes, we’re here to cheer you all up – it could be worse. Yes, really! This year’s World Cup qualifiers have seen tough times for more than just Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Here are just a few other teams that faced heart-breaking failure this year:
– Ghana – Their home form certainly wasn’t on point this year. Three home games all came with devastating losses, which, of course, was embarrassing too. In fact, there were even rumours that Ghana are staying at home completely next year. After slashed funding and out-of-form players, a win at this year’s qualifiers could’ve completely changed the game for Ghana. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
– Honduras – Talk of spying riddled the Honduras team this year as head coach Jorge Luis Pinto lost his cool and accused the Australian team of spying on their training. However, despite this breakdown, they went on to win and finish above the USA, and while there appeared to be plenty of good moments, it just wasn’t enough. Say it with me again – What If.
– Indonesia – The Indonesian loss was perhaps the most frustrating of all simply because they never actually got the chance to play. Fifa essentially banned the team from playing any international matches, after a government intervention led to a Fifa sanction. Whether the team would’ve stood a chance either way unfortunately is another unknown mystery, but the odds certainly weren’t in their favour.
Whether through bad management or simply because the other team was better prepared, losses in football can be devastating for fans and players alike. However, regardless, the next World Cup is looking to be just as exciting as any other before it, if not more so – it’s just a shame that Northern and the Republic of Ireland aren’t going to be a part of it.