World Cup 2014 Draw

John Delaney believes Ireland’s 2014 World Cup Qualifying draw is favourable but the culturally-coiffured administrator may have only been considering prospective attendance figures when commenting on a draw that is less than kind to Ireland." rel="attachment wp-att-2337]

The aspiration for Ireland is obviously to top the group but our ambitions in that respect have been curtailed (if not culled) before a ball has been kicked. Germany did manage to avoid top spot in the 2008 European Championships Qualifying campaign (a full 10 points ahead of Staunton's Ireland in third) but they have improved since then and are highly unlikely to finish anywhere other than first this time around. It may be unrealistic to even consider the prospects of qualifying without the playoffs (Ireland have only once topped a qualifying group for either major championship) but with the frailties of Russia and Italy in recent campaigns, and the presence of Norway in the top seeds this time around, it's unsettling to compete with the most straightforward route to Brazil apparently blocked from the start.

Germany are currently gliding through Euro 2012 Qualifying Group A with a 100% win record and are benefiting from a re-evaluation of their youth structures in the last decade that has reaped enormous benefits. The emergence of Neuer, Muller, Ozil and Khedira has re-energised the team and with the likes of Marin, Hummels and Kroos waiting in the wings there is no sign of Germany weakening any time soon. They have beaten Kazakhstan twice and Austria once (so far) in this tournament and will hardly fear the threat posed by Sweden or Ireland.

So Ireland are likely to be competing for second place against Sweden and Austria. There are tougher opponents around from pots 2 and 4 but the obstacles are unquestionably trickier than those presented by Russia and Slovakia in the current campaign. Sweden need only draw with Hungary in early September to be virtually assured of a playoff spot for Euro 2014. The Swedes are recovering from coming third in World Cup 2010 qualifying (behind Portugal and Denmark) and a disappointing performance at Euro 2008 where they failed to get out of their group. This return to form confirms Sweden’s standing as one of the stronger second seeds available, the likes of Slovakia, Slovenia are Denmark would have been preferable.

Austria are one of the weaker teams in Pot 4 in FIFA rankings and they certainly would not be expected to pose the problems that Bulgaria are Romania (from the same pot) might cause. They were a distant third in World Cup 2010 qualifying, and a very underwhelming third in Euro 2008 which they co-hosted. Their current form is in keeping with this mediocrity - two home victories over minnows and a creditable point in Belgium haven’t compensated for three defeats and they’re languishing in fourth place in Group A.

You couldn’t ask for an easier fifth seed than the Faroe Islands but the reality is that Ireland won’t be competing with the bottom two teams for qualification so their strength is generally irrelevant. Kazakhstan will be the typical awkward place to visit on an away trip, though they haven’t taken a single point off a higher ranked team in 2012 or 2010 qualifying and they’re as likely to cause problems for Austria or Sweden as Ireland.

Assessing qualifying groups a full year before they begin is (like most contributions on TFK) a little pointless but at this stage it certainly looks a step up from the France-Bulgaria and Russia-Slovakia pairings that have confronted Ireland recently.]Read the full story here