Republic of Ireland’s record in World Cup (soccer) qualifier games, 1934-2013

Adrian Kavanagh, originally posted 8th January 2013 (last updated 10th October 2013)

The Republic of Ireland has just finished their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign – one which has proven to be a very disappointing one – and this has prompted me to do a review of the country’s past record in relation to World Cup qualifiers. A review of the facts throws up some interesting findings – in relation to the countries against which the Republic of Ireland enjoy a very good/poor record against in such World Cup qualifier matches, but also the countries that the Republic of Ireland have encountered the most frequently in such qualifiers and those that the Irish have yet to encounter.The Republic of Ireland have (to date) played in 142 World Cup matches. Thirteen of these games were played in World Cup Final tournaments, meaning that the Republic has to date played in 129 World Cup qualifier games (including play-offs). The Irish record in these games is by no means a poor one, they have won 51 of these games and drawn 38 games but have lost the remaining 40 games. The Irish have also scored more goals (185) than the number of goals that they have conceded (157).

With the November 1965 play-off against Spain being played in a neutral venue, the Republic of Ireland have played an equal number of Home (64 games) and Away (64 games) games at the conclusion of this 2012-13 qualifying campaign. Not surprisingly, the Irish record at Home has been stronger than the Irish record for Away games. The Republic of Ireland has won exactly half of their World Cup qualifier games played at Home (32 wins), but less than one third of the games played in Away venues (19 wins). At Home, as well as winning 31 of the games, the Irish have drawn 19 of these games and lost the remaining 13 of these, scoring 114 goals across these 63 games and conceding 66. Away from Home, as well as winning 19 of the games, the Irish have drawn 19 of these games and lost the remaining 26 of these, scoring 71 goals across these 63 games and conceding 90.

Unlike other European teams, big wins have not factored strongly in the Irish qualifiers record, but big defeats have also been relatively few and far between. To date, the biggest winning margin by the Republic of Ireland in a World Cup qualifier games was the 6-0 win over Cyprus on 19th November 1980, with the next best results relating to the back to back wins over Liechenstein in the World Cup 1998 qualifying campaign; the Irish record away World Cup qualifiers win of 5-0 against Liechenstein on 31st August 1996 being following by a similar result in the home tie against Liechenstein on 21 May 1997.  You have to go back over half a century to encounter the worst World Cup qualifier defeat for the Republic of Ireland – namely the 7-1 defeat away to Czechoslovakia on 29 October 1961. However the worst home defeat in a World Cup qualifier (and the second worst ever defeat in a World Cup qualifier) for the Republic of Ireland has been decidedly more recent, namely the 6-1 home defeat to Germany on 12th October 2012. Ironically, this was the first  time that Germany had formed the opposition in a World Cup qualifying game, although there was a 1-1 draw with the Germans in the 2002 Finals. Ireland’s poor qualifier record against the Germans was subsequently cemented by a 3-0 away loss to them in Cologne on 10 October 2013.

In relation to World Cup qualifier matches involving the other 52 UEFA members associations, the Republic of Ireland has to date yet to play against quite a significant number of these. Ireland will be playing their first ever World Cup qualifier matches against three of the countries in their qualifying group – the 2012-13 qualifying matches against Germany and Kazakhstan were the first ever World Cup qualifying matches against those countries, while the 26th March 2013 2-2 home draw against Austria was the first time the Republic of Ireland has played that country in a World Cup qualifier. A number of these countries are only relatively recent members of UEFA, including a number of Former Soviet states (including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine) – although the Soviet Union formed World Cup qualifier opposition on four occasions – and a number of Former Yugoslav states (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia), as well as Andorra in addition to the Czech Republic and Slovakia (although Czechoslovakia formed the qualifiers opposition on four occasions). But the Irish also have yet to play World Cup qualifying matches against a number of more long-standing UEFA member states and these include Greece, Poland, Turkey and Wales. Some of these countries admittedly have formed opposition for the Republic of Ireland in European Championships qualifiers (and even Finals games, as with Croatia). The country that the Republic of Ireland has encountered the most often in World Cup qualifying games is France, with twelve qualifier games to date involving the French having been played to date (including the play-off games in the 2010 qualifying tournament). Other countries that the Republic of Ireland have encountered in World Cup qualifiers on a number of occasions include Cyprus (8 games), Denmark (8 games), Spain (7 games, as well as a World Cup Finals second round tie in 2002), the Netherlands (5 games, as well as two World Cup Finals ties in 1990 and 1994) and Belgium (five games). The only non-UEFA country that the Republic of Ireland has played in World Cup qualifier games is Iran, who formed the opposition in the play-off games for the 2002 competition.

To date, the Republic of Ireland has a 100% winning record in World Cup qualifier games against eleven different UEFA member states.  In most cases, these have been the opposition on only one occasion to date (Kazahkstan) or two different occasions (Albania, Andorra, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Liechenstein, Luxembourg and Malta) with the exceptions of the Faroe Islands (three games, to date) and Cyprus (eight games). By contrast, the Republic of Ireland has a 100% loss record in World Cup qualifier games against only four different UEFA member states. The most significant of these is Czechoslovakia, which beat the Republic of Ireland in all four of the World Cup qualifier games involving those countries during the World Cup 1962 and 1970 qualifying campaigns (including the aforementioned 7-1 tonking) but fortunately Czechoslovakia no longer exists. Ireland lost to Scotland on both occasions in the only World Cup qualifying tournament (1962) in which these countries were in the same qualifying group. The bad news is that the other country that have beaten the Republic of Ireland in each World Cup qualifier they have played against the Irish to date is in Ireland’s current World Cup qualifying group, namely Germany. Sweden (who accounted for two Irish defeats during the World Cup 1950 qualifying campaign) also fell into this category until the 0-0 draw between the Swedes and Irish in Solna on 22nd March 2013, but the recent 1-2 home loss to the Swedes underpins a poor record against them in World Cup qualifiers and means Ireland has yet to beat the Swedes in a World Cup qualifiers.  Similarly, with a record amounting to a single draw and single defeat during the current campaign, Ireland also have yet to beat Austria in a qualifiers game, though they came within seconds of doing so in the home qualifier in March 2013.

Figure 1: Number of World Cup qualifier games (and Finals games) played by the Republic of Ireland, 1934-2012

Figure 1: Number of World Cup qualifier games (and Finals games) played by the Republic of Ireland, 1934-2012

There are also interesting trends in terms of the time of year in which the Republic of Ireland has played World Cup qualifier games. As Figure 1 shows, while there are a number of months during which the Republic of Ireland has played no qualifier games (January, July (although they did play one game in July during the 1994 Finals) and December) as well as relatively few qualifier games (February and August), there are also a number of other months which have seen a significant number of  Republic of Ireland qualifier games, most notably those of October, November and September. Ironically, the most popular two months in terms of the staging of Republic of Ireland qualifier games are also two of the least successful ones in terms of the country’s record in relation to games played during those months, as Table 1 below shows, with the Irish winning just 34.2% and losing 34.2% of the games played during October and winning just 20% and losing 55% of the games played during the month of November. September had been a decidedly more fruitful month for the Republic of Ireland; with the country having won close to two-thirds (63.2%) of the World Cup qualifier games played to date during that month and having lost just 5.3% prior to the 2014 World Cup qualifiers. That strong record in September, however, was nixed by the losses to Sweden and Austria in September 2013, March has been one of the more relatively successful months for the Republic of Ireland, with the Irish having lost just one (8.3%) of the World Cup qualifier matches played during this month with a 19-7 goal difference in favour of the Republic of Ireland across all the qualifier games played during this month.

Month Played Win Draw Loss For Against Margin
January 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
February 2 1 1 0 6 5 1
March 12 6 5 1 19 7 12
April 7 2 2 3 10 12 -2
May 14 5 3 6 17 20 -4
June 13 7 3 3 22 11 11
July 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
August 2 1 1 0 5 0 5
September 21 12 6 3 34 16 18
October 38 13 12 13 52 56 -4
November 20 4 5 11 20 30 -10
December 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Table 1: Republic of Ireland’s World Cup qualifier record by month, 1934-2013

The Republic of Ireland’s next World Cup qualification campaign will commence in September 2016.

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