Second place no guarantee of play-offs

Even if Ireland finish second in Group C, Giovanni Trapattoni’s team will not be guaranteed a place in the play-offs for the 2014 World Cup finals.

That’s because the runner-up with the fewest points across the nine groups will be cut from the draw for the four two-legged ties in November.

The same rule applied four years ago, when Norway missed out. On that occasion Ireland occupied the eighth and last place in the table of second-placed teams.

Because Group I, in which Spain currently lead France, contains only five teams, runners-up in Groups A-H must discount their results against the bottom team in their section (at present the Faroe Islands in Group C) to ensure a level playing pitch.

All teams will be judged, therefore, on eight matches against their four closest group opponents.

As it stands, the second-placed team in Group C — Austria — is ranked eighth in the runners-up table, ahead of Israel (Group F) on goal difference.

But the picture will change constantly as the programme of qualifying matches progresses.

Just how fine the margins are is revealed by the fact that, if Ireland had hung on for victory against Austria, they would now be ranked sixth in the second-place mini-league.

What is certain is that Ireland have three points fewer in their section than at the same stage four years ago — and are two places lower.

Then, victories over Georgia (twice) and Cyprus (in Dublin) and draws with Montenegro and Bulgaria gave Ireland 11 points from five matches for second place behind Italy.

Now, with eight points at the halfway stage of the campaign, Trap’s team stand fourth, behind Austria and Sweden on goal difference. The Swedes also have a game in hand.

Meanwhile, Jon Walters’ double on Wednesday night made him the first Ireland player other than Robbie Keane to score twice in a competitive match since Roy Keane hit two against Cyprus 12 years ago.


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