Why Republic of Ireland would be better served LOSING to the Netherlands than beating them in Euro 2024 qualifying next month as UEFA’s play-off system throws up bizarre predicament

The Republic of Ireland find themselves in a peculiar situation as their chances of qualifying for Euro 2024 could be boosted if they lose to the Netherlands next month. Despite losing five out of their six matches so far in Group B, Stephen Kenny’s side still have a chance to make the play-offs. UEFA has decided that the teams entering the play-offs in March will be determined by their performance in the 2022-23 Nations League, with the final three spots at the finals being decided in this manner as well. This decision offers a glimmer of hope for Ireland, but it has put them in a bizarre situation. Ireland’s hopes of finishing in the top two positions in Group B and securing a passage to the finals automatically were dashed by their 2-0 defeat to Greece on Friday night. However, they could still make the play-offs for Euro 2024, and it has been suggested that they would be better off losing next month’s qualifier against the Netherlands.

The current permutation in Group B means that for Ireland to have any chance of playing in the play-offs, they must lose to the Netherlands, as this would create an additional playoff place that Ireland could take. On the other hand, if Ireland wins against the Netherlands, it would almost certainly eliminate their chance to advance. This situation has been deemed unacceptable by many. Group leaders France have already secured their place at Euro 2024 with six wins from six matches. Greece is currently in second place with 12 points, followed by the Netherlands in third with nine points, but with a game in hand on Greece. Ireland is in fourth place with only three points from their six matches so far, and their only win came against Gibraltar. They are expected to win again against Gibraltar on Monday night, which would double their points tally and keep their play-off hopes alive.

The 12 teams that make it to the play-offs will be divided into three paths based on their Nations League performance in 2022 and 2023. The best-ranked teams in Leagues A, B, and C that don’t secure an automatic spot in Euro 2024 will form these paths. So far, six teams have already qualified for the finals – Spain, Portugal, Belgium, France, Scotland, and Turkey – while the host nation Germany also qualifies automatically. If the Netherlands beat Greece and Ireland in their upcoming matches, they would secure an automatic qualifying spot. Greece faces a tougher final game against France compared to the Netherlands, who play Gibraltar. Despite Ireland’s poor performance in the qualifiers, they still have a chance to make it to the play-offs for the remaining Euro places. Their chances would be boosted if the Netherlands qualify automatically by defeating Ireland in their match next month.

If the Netherlands finish second and secure an automatic qualifying spot, it would mean fewer non-qualifying teams from League A in the play-offs, which would increase Ireland’s chances of making it into League B. Currently, the play-offs in League A would feature Croatia, Netherlands, Poland, and Estonia, while League B includes Israel, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Finland, and Ukraine. If the Netherlands qualify automatically, Ireland, who are ranked 26th in the Nations League, would have a better chance of making it into the League B play-offs. Therefore, it is in Ireland’s best interest for the Netherlands to finish second, which could be achieved with a Dutch victory in the upcoming match in Amsterdam on November 18. It should be noted that this scenario depends on various results, but it has revealed a loophole in UEFA’s formatting where a defeat could be more beneficial than a victory.

The outcome of whether Ireland makes it to the play-offs or not will have a significant impact on Stephen Kenny’s future as his contract expires next month.


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