Ciaran Clark missing Eden Hazard with that tackle could yet save Ireland

Yellow cards could yet play a part in Ireland progressing from Euro 2016 Group E. Here's how...

Ireland must beat Italy to stand a chance of reaching the round of 16 at the European Championship finals. A draw will not be good enough under any circumstances for Martin O'Neill's team, who fell to the bottom of Group E behind Sweden on goal difference after Saturday's 3-0 loss to Belgium, who face Sweden in their final fixture.

Here are the permutations for the last two Group E matches on Wednesday night.


Victory for Ireland would lift them to into 3rd place with 4 points. Belgium would join Italy on 6 points, but Italy can't be caught as Group winners because of their win against Belgium. A one-goal win for Ireland against Italy would improve their goal difference to minus-2, and then the calculators would be needed to make comparisons with the other third-placed teams, two of whom will be eliminated.


In this scenario both Ireland and Belgium finish on 4 points, with Sweden trailing in fourth place on 2 points. Belgium are placed second behind Italy based on their head-to-head result against Ireland. Ireland must sweat it out: have two other third-placed teams finished with less than 4 points, or with 4 points and an inferior goal-difference?


This brings Sweden into contention. By beating Belgium, the Swedes would join Ireland on 4 points and Belgium would finish bottom with 3 points. Sweden's goal difference is currently better than Ireland's (minus-1 to minus-3), and a one-goal win over Belgium would restore it to 0. So if Sweden win 1-0 or 2-1 Ireland must beat Italy by a three-goal margin to finish above Sweden and qualify automatically on the basis of scoring more goals.


Alright, it might have been helped us more, to win the ball and prevent the goal, but Clark missing Hazard and avoiding a yellow may yet prove important. If the Swedes win 3-2, and Ireland win 3-0, both teams would be exactly equal. Then UEFA's Fair-Play table would be consulted, in which Sweden currently lead Ireland by 2 yellow cards to 3. If the disciplinary records had also leveled up by end of play on Wednesday, Sweden's superior UEFA National Team Coefficient (16 to Ireland's 23) would count in their favour, leaving Ireland 3rd in Group E.

Should Sweden beat Belgium by a two-goal margin, Ireland would need to beat Italy by a 4-goal margin to finish second. A narrow Ireland win and a Swedish victory by any score would see Ireland finish third on 4 points, which might or might not be good enough to progress.


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