Northern Ireland victory keeps Group F of World Cup Qualifying open
It was certainly momentous, but how big, how important was Northern Ireland’s World Cup qualifying win over Russia? It could turn out to be huge for Michael O’Neill’s men. That 1-0 victory against the strong Russians was Northern Ireland’s first win in qualification for Brazil 2014. It couldn’t have come at a more timely moment for them too, because it kept their own faint hopes of making it to South America next summer, alive.
The realism though is that there is a tremendous amount of work still for the Northern Irish to do to make, it, as they are still six points off second place, currently held by Russia. But it was a night in Belfast which the fans will remember for a long time, and it may have been even better than the heroics which they showed in taking a point away from their trip to Portugal earlier in the group.
So the win will have filled Northern Ireland with bags of confidence no doubt, but reaching the World Cup 2014 is perhaps a bridge too far for them still. They have only scored four goals in their opening six matches and would have to overcome the challenges of Russia, Israel and Portugal in the race for a top two spot. Is that likely to happen? Sadly no, the odds are against them, not given the missed opportunities that they had against the weaker opposition in the group, Azerbaijan and Luxembourg, where valuable points were thrown away.
But even if Northern Ireland fail to make it, their win over the Russians has kept the group wide open at the top. Portugal still lead the way on 14 points, but have played a game more than Russia on 12pts and Israel on 11 pts. There are some massive games to come, as Israel have to go to both Portugal and Russia still, which could be the deciding factors in the top two spots. Have Russia blown a big chance to reach the World Cup finals? They could have been sitting pretty at the top of Group F by now, a point clear and a game in hand. Now however, Fabio Capello’s troops have a big fight on their hands.
The next round of matches may not resolve much, as Russia host Luxembourg at home, while Israel host Azerbaijan, and the Russians and Israelis are expected to book comfortable wins on September 6th. While that is going on, Portugal head to Windsor Park to play Northern Ireland, and here is where the Irish can continue to have a huge influence on the outcome of the group, if they could take more points off Cristiano Ronaldo and co.
The two defining matches though in the race to qualifying from Group C, will be on September 10th, when Russia host Israel in St Petersburg, and then on October 11th, when the Israelis had to Lisbon to face Portugal.
World Cup Qualifying Group F Winner Odds at SkyBet
Russia 4/11, Portugal 2/1, Israel 20/1