World Cup playoffs: When are they? When is the draw? Who can Ireland play?

Martin O’Neill’s men have a chance over two legs to book a spot in Russia next summer

James McClean’s right-footed strike in Cardiff on Monday night was enough to book Ireland a 2018 World Cup playoff place with the situation helpfully simplified by Slovenia’s 2-2 draw with Scotland the night before.

That meant that all of the various permutations involving second-placed teams could be forgotten about because a win for Ireland would be enough to get them into the top eight and secure a chance to reach next summer’s finals in Russia.

With Jeff Hendrick’s closing down, Harry Arter’s dummy and McClean’s perfect finish into the bottom corner that place was secure.

Let’s get to the details of the playoffs, then.


When is the draw?

The playoff draw will take place next Tuesday (October 17th) at Fifa headquarters in Zurich with the start time due to be 1pm Irish time – perfect to plan your lunch break around.

Who can Ireland get?

We won’t know for certain the eight playoff teams until the final qualifiers are completed on Tuesday night but we can definitely make a good stab at it.

What we know for certain is that Ireland won’t be one of the four seeded teams due to our Fifa ranking while Northern Ireland will also be unseeded after they failed to beat Norway in their final qualifiers on Sunday.

Even before their final group game last night Italy were definite second place finishers in Group G, behind winners Spain, and they will be a seeded team meaning there is potential for another historic meeting between Ireland and the Azzurri. Is there still payback due for Toto Schillaci in 1990?

The other seeded team to finish their campaign last night was Croatia. Remember, if Scotland had beaten Slovenia on Sunday, we would have needed the Croats to draw with Ukraine on Monday evening – something they didn’t do as they went to Kiev and beat them 2-0 to ensure second place in Group I behind Iceland. While drawing Croatia might be marginally better than Italy, it would still be a monumental task. Let’s not talk about the last time we faced them (Euro 2012 and all that...).

Before last night Denmark had also booked their place as runners-up – they came second in Group E behind Poland – and will also be seeded as a result of their Fifa ranking one place behind Croatia. So far the Danes stand out as the potential best draw for Martin O’Neill’s men.

For the final seeded team we step into the unknown. Portugal meet Switzerland on Tuesday evening knowing that only a win will do if they're to qualify automatically for the finals as they currently trail the Swiss by three points in Group B. By virtue of that lead, Switzerland only need a draw at the Estadio da Luz to top the group and send Portugal into the playoffs. One thing we do know is that, whichever team it is, they will be seeded with the Swiss surely a better option than facing the reigning European champions, with Cristiano Ronaldo in tow, over two legs.

Seeded teams: Portugal/Switzerland, Italy, Croatia, Denmark.

Unseeded teams: Sweden, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Greece.

*In the end it was Slovakia who finished as the dreaded ninth-placed second team.

When will the matches be played?

The first legs will take place over three days in November – Thursday 9th, Friday 10th and Saturday 11th – with the second legs on Sunday 12th, Monday 13th and Tuesday 14th. The days Ireland will play on depends on the draw next Tuesday with the order of legs (whether we play at home or away first) also depending on the draw. Seeded teams are not guaranteed to be at home in the second leg. The winners of each playoff will advance to the draw for the 2018 World Cup on December 1st in the Kremlin.

Will Ireland have anyone suspended for the first leg?

Yes, but just the one. David Meyler's yellow card for a late tackle on Wayne Hennessey in the final seconds on Monday night means that he will miss out on the first leg of the playoff.

Ruaidhrí Croke

Ruaidhrí Croke

Ruaidhrí Croke is a sports journalist with The Irish Times