Football: Republic Must Wait for Opponents

Article excerpt

THE POSTPONEMENT of two Asian Federation qualifying matches has added more uncertainty over the identity of the Republic of Ireland's prospective opponents in a politically sensitive play-off next month for entry to next summer's World Cup finals in Japan and Korea.

Last weekend's matches, in which Iran beat Iraq 2-1 and Oman beat Uzbekistan 4-2, appeared to make the situation clearer, with Mick McCarthy's team due to take on the winners of a clash between the runners-up from the two Asian groups in a two-legged meeting in Dublin on 10 November and then somewhere in the Middle East five days later.

Iran's win makes them strong favourites to win Asian Group A, leaving Saudi Arabia as the most likely runners-up in that section. And Uzbekistan's defeat - after they led Group B bottom team Oman 2- 0 at half-time - means the United Arab Emirates are virtually certain to be the other runners- up behind China, who have already qualified.

But the Group A match between Thailand and Bahrain last Saturday was abandoned in the first half when a fire broke out in the stadium in Bangkok, and Tuesday's replay produced a 1-1 draw which had no effect on the qualifying positions.

Now the world governing body, Fifa, have ordered postponements of the final Group A matches between Bahrain and Iran, and Saudi Arabia and Thailand until Sunday instead of today's original date.

Barring some unexpected results in the final round of qualifiers - UAE finish Group B against Oman today while Uzbekistan face unbeaten China - the most likely scenario now is that Ireland will face the winners of a two-legged tie between Saudi Arabia and UAE. …