World Cup 2023 draw: What are the best and worst scenarios for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland?

Fri, Apr 30 2021

Vera Pauw’s Ireland side recently came out the wrong side of 1-0 defeats to higher-ranked opposition at home to Denmark and away to Belgium. Credit: Peter Fitzpatrick (ETPhotos)

The draw for the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand takes place today at 12.30pm Irish time at FIFA HQ in Nyon, Switzerland.

The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are seeded in pot three alongside Czech Republic, Ukraine, Poland, Slovenia, Romania, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It’s somewhat fortuitous that the two Irelands will avoid each other with the Republic smarting from missing out on a play-off and the North celebrating their first-ever major tournament qualification.

As it happens, Ukraine were the opponents for both – a defeat away in Ukraine saw Ireland miss out on a play-off, while Northern Ireland beat the Ukrainians over two legs to make the Euros.

Kenny Shiels’ side will take pride of place at the finals in England next summer but attention has already move to the World Cup qualifiers, which kick off later this year.

Vera Pauw’s Ireland side recently came out the wrong side of 1-0 defeats to higher-ranked opposition at home to Denmark and away to Belgium.

And while the results weren’t ideal, Pauw did get to test out a number of fringe players, with National League stars Jamie Finn, Ellen Molloy and Emily Whelan all impressing.

So both teams can go into the World Cup draw with a degree of optimism but, with only group winners qualifying automatically, it’s an uphill task for both.

Even second place will only yield a play-off semi-final, with the two best winners advancing to the finals and the third facing an intercontinental play-off.

So any route to the finals in the southern hemisphere is fraught with difficulty – but what are the best and worst prospective draws?

Pot 1: Netherlands, Germany, England, France, Sweden, Spain, Norway, Italy, Denmark.

Put simply, there is no easy draw in Pot 1, with reigning European champions Netherlands and favourites to take the gong in England, Germany, among the possible opponents.

Sweden, Norway and Denmark look the most attractive of the draws, given that a large number of their players play semi-professionally at home, though Spain may also be vulnerable.

Pot 2: Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Iceland, Scotland, Russia, Finland, Portugal, Wales

Pot 2 is also daunting but far less so than the top seeds, with several winnable games for the two Irelands.

The players from both sides will be familiar with the Scottish and Wales contingents, while the Republic will have nothing to fear from Belgium having faced them in Heysel this month.

Northern Ireland drew home and away with the Welsh to pip them to second spot in Euro qualification.

Pot 4: Slovakia, Hungary, Belarus, Croatia, Greece, Albania, North Macedonia, Israel, Azerbaijan

Both sides will be confident of beating anybody they draw from Pot 4, having overcome opposition from this pot in the most recent campaign.

Ireland beat Greece at home and drew away in Euro qualifying, while Northern Ireland won home and away against Belarus, winning 3-2 at home to clinch a play-off spot.

The Republic beat Slovakia home and away in qualification for the 2019 World Cup and would relish another chance to face their central European counterparts.

Pot 5: Turkey, Malta, Kosovo, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Cyprus, Faroe Islands, Georgia, Latvia

Pot 5 is much of a muchness as the majority of sides in the group, including Georgia, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Cyprus and the Faroes all finished Euro qualifying without a point.

The dark horses in qualifying may be Kosovo, whose position is artificially low due to their recent arrival in UEFA, and Malta, who both scooped ten points in qualifying and should be avoided.

Pot 6: Montenegro, Lithuania, Estonia, Luxembourg, Armenia, Bulgaria

Likewise, Estonia, Montenegro and Lithuania finish bottom of their Euro groups, while Bulgaria, Armenia and Luxembourg didn’t make it to the group stage.

So what would be the ideal group for either the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland? The optimal group would look something like this:

Optimal Group:

Spain

Wales

Republic of Ireland/Northern Ireland

Israel

Turkey

Bulgaria

And what about the disaster group?

Worst Group:

Germany

Belgium

Republic of Ireland/Northern Ireland

Slovakia

Kosovo

Latvia

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