Stephen Kenny's path to Ireland's first World Cup in 20 years has been laid out after fixtures for the qualifying campaign were released yesterday evening.
Monday's draw for the UEFA section of the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign saw Ireland placed in a group alongside European champions Portugal as well as Serbia, Luxembourg and Azerbaijan. A twist emerged on Tuesday evening when it was confirmed that World Cup hosts Qatar (who qualify for the tournament automatically) would be joining Ireland's group as a means of getting themselves up to speed ahead of their staging of international football's showpiece event in December 2022.
While there won't be any points on the line in the matches involving Qatar, Ireland's two games against the hosts will fill a couple of empty dates on the calendar and should provide Stephen Kenny with the chance to fine tune his team in between more important tasks.
So what do Ireland need to do two qualify? Well, the winner of each of the ten groups will book their tickets to the finals tournament in Qatar so if we can manage that, life would be quite simple. Otherwise, the 10 group runners-up, plus the two best Nations League group winners that finished outside the two top WCQ group, will be divided into three play-off paths, each containing four teams.
Each path will be play out semi-finals and a final, with the three path winners qualifying for the World Cup. Got all that? Basically, we're looking at finishing second in the group to keep the World Cup dream alive because winning the thing is unlikely at best.
Here are the dates for your diary for Ireland's World Cup Qualifying campaign:
Wednesday, March 24 2021: Serbia (a)
Saturday, March 27 2021: Luxembourg (h)
Tuesday, March 30 2021: Qatar (h)
Wednesday, September 1 2021: Portugal (a)
Saturday, September 4 2021: Azerbaijan (h)
Tuesday, September 7 2021: Serbia (h)
Saturday, October 9 2021: Azerbaijan (a)
Tuesday, October 12 2021: Qatar (a)
Thursday, November 11 2021: Portugal (h)
Sunday, November 14 2021: Luxembourg (a)