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The Republic of Ireland entered a tough group for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers as Portugal and Serbia among the top teams in Group A. However, Ireland’s chances of securing their first World Cup qualification since they made it to the round of 16 in 2002 could be boosted by upcoming fixtures against Azerbaijan and Luxembourg.
Kenny’s side got off to a poor start on Tuesday evening as they were narrowly defeated 3-2 in Belgrade by an Aleksandar Mitrovic inspired Serbia. The visitors started the match positively, and Alan Browne scored Ireland’s first international goal in seven games on 18 minutes. However, Dulan Vlahović’s goal before half time and a Mitrovic brace in the second period handed Ireland a fourth defeat in five games. James Collins scored a late consolation for Ireland, but it wasn’t enough to gain a point.
The result leaves Kenny winless in his first nine games as Ireland manager. With seven losses and just two draws during this run, Ireland will need to improve drastically to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.
What they need to do to qualify?
Even at these early stages of the World Cup qualifiers, Ireland’s loss to Serbia could be a big blow. To qualify outright for the 2022 World Cup, Ireland must finish top of Group A, which would mean defeating both Serbia and Portugal in upcoming fixtures.
However, Ireland’s chances of finishing second are far from over and much more likely. To finish second, and enter the playoff stages, Kenny will be aware that his side must defeat Luxembourg, who Ireland play this Saturday, and Azerbaijan, who narrowly lost 1-0 to Portugal in their Group A opener, to stand any chance of qualifying.
As Group A takes shape in the coming months, it’s likely Ireland will battle for second with either Serbia or Portugal. The round one loss to Serbia already makes automatic qualification a tough ask.
Ireland has been buoyed by the return of captain Seamus Coleman for their World Cup qualifiers. The Everton defender played his first international since 2019 against Serbia and he could be key to turning Ireland’s fortunes around. Coleman started in a back three alongside Dara O’Shea and Ciaran Clark and the Irish defence looked organised for long spells against Serbia. But they were only undone by some Mitrovic brilliance.
Kenny has also placed faith in the young centre forward Aaron Connolly to lead the line. The Ireland manager will need the Brighton striker to find the net more often to take the pressure off Ireland’s scoring woes in the coming matches. However, Kenny has also selected more experienced options through Shane Long, James Collins and Callum Robinson, who could all partner Connolly against Luxembourg this weekend.
Midfielder Alan Browne also impressed in the opening match against Serbia and capped his performance with a well-taken goal. His partnership in centre midfield alongside Josh Cullen Jason Molumby could help sure up Ireland’s structured 3-5-2 and provide another focal point in attack too.
Ireland host Luxembourg this Saturday in Dublin in their second Group A fixture – a key match for Kenny’s side to win to keep their qualification hopes alive. Ireland then faces Qatar in a friendly match three days later on March 30th.
In September, Ireland travels to Portugal before back-to-back home matches against Azerbaijan and Serbia before the final round of World Cup qualifiers in October and November 2021.