Having punted, barged and concussed their way past Wales in Cardiff, Martin O’Neill’s Ireland now face a play-off to decide whether they make it to Russia for the World Cup in 2018.
The unseeded Boys in Green will find out who their opponents are when the playoff draw takes place in Zurich on Tuesday, with four seeded teams in the hat: Croatia, Denmark, Italy and Switzerland.
O’Neill and his staff are sure to remain diplomatically quiet about which of this quartet they believe would provide the least resistance on the road to the Mundial.
But among the management group, there is probably a preferred choice in that regard – though they’re almost certain to trot out the ‘we’ll be confident whoever we get’ line a few hundred more times in the buildup.
For us, however, there’s no such need to be polite. Here’s how we see Ireland’s prospects against each of their potential adversaries.
There’s a decent argument to be made that Croatia are the strongest of the eight European teams still in the shakeup for the remaining World Cup places.
Certainly, they boast one the best midfields that exists in international football at the moment: Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic would get into most sides, while a host of competent rotationists like Milan Badelj, Mateo Kovacic and Ivan Perisic mean they rarely struggle for depth.
At the back, they’re a little less convincing, but in Dejan Lovren they possess a player who often looks far more comfortable at international level than he does for his club. Lovren in the checkered jersey of Croatia is a tougher nut to crack than in the red of Liverpool, and he marshals his defence well.
With players such as Sime Vrsaljko (Atletico Madrid) and Domagoj Vida (Dynamo Kiev) likely to be in the squad as well, this is a backline that won’t fold easily.
Up front, Mario Mandzukic is a constant thorn in the side of any defensive unit he faces, and will provide a unique challenge for Ireland’s defenders. He won’t be even slightly afraid to take them on physically, and the tussle between him and the Irish centre-backs will be explosive.
If Ireland are to progress, the Croats are to be avoided at all costs.
He won’t say it, but it’s likely that O’Neill will be hoping to steer well clear of them.
It would be easy to underestimate the Danes. They lack the star names of some of the other teams Ireland could face, and were fortunate to have been drawn in a relatively benign qualifying group.
But this is a competent, gritty and typically well-organised Scandinavian side – only the complacent would write them off.
In Christian Eriksen they have a creator-supreme, a playmaker who can unlock defences seemingly at will with his laid-back brand of precise passing and set-piece wizardry.
But Ireland and O’Neill will feel – rightly – that if they can shut down Eriksen, they have a very good chance of negating Denmark’s attacking threat. He is the man who can put an edge on what is often a rather blunt Danish offence.
But, without dismissing the Danes’ ability, it’s fair to say that Ireland would consider them a good draw.
There isn’t a huge amount of difference between them, and the Irish staff may well feel that they are one of the two sides who they’d prefer to be matched with in Zurich on Tuesday.
Ok, so Ireland may have vanquished an understrength Italian side at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in June 2016, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be able to do it again.
That victory in Lille was conjured up by a combination of Italian disinterest, Robbie Brady’s beautiful noggin and the wine-enhanced roars of the several thousand tipsy fanatics whose voices basically blew the Irish team over the line.
It would be asking a lot to repeat that. All the more so, given it will be impossible to recreate the mad spirit of Lille in a windswept Aviva Stadium or Stadio Olimpico in November.
There’s no doubt that Italy would pose a gargantuan task for Ireland over two legs, and despite past victories over the Azzurri, it’s probable that O’Neill and co will be hoping to avoid them.
Spain may have put them to the sword in qualifying, but the Italians only conceded four times in their eight matches against the others in their group.
It’s hard to see a not-exactly-prolific Ireland side breaking them down.
Funnily enough, the highest-ranked second-place team in qualifying may well be the one that Ireland are hoping to draw.
The Swiss are a solid, well-managed side with occasional splashes of flair dotted throughout the squad. But they don’t spark fear in the same manner as Italy or Croatia might, despite their efficient performances in Group B.
Morale may also have taken a hit in the camp as they missed out on automatic qualification at the last hurdle, going down 2-0 to Portugal when a draw or better would have sent them straight to Russia. By contrast, Ireland’s spirits will be soaring after their defeat of the Welsh.
Switzerland have nothing that the Irish should fear.
Xherdan Shaqiri is a livewire, but is about as predictable as a paper-plane in a hurricane, while you wouldn’t bet against Granit Xhaka getting himself sent off in the first ten seconds for a head-first lunge on the referee.
— FAIreland ⚽️?? (@FAIreland) October 10, 2017
This could be the name that Martin O’Neill will hope to see drawn alongside Ireland’s on Tuesday.