I KNOW it’s still painful to think about World Cup qualifying after another Scotland failure. 

But we have a choice when it comes to this week’s European playoff ties. Pretend they’re not happening or actually find out about our competition.

Since these are in many cases, the sides Scotland need to beat to make it to a major finals, it surely makes sense to opt for the latter.

Let’s start with Northern Ireland and their prospects of overcoming Switzerland. Michael O’Neill’s men have made a habit of punching as a collective, well above their individual weight. I actually like the fact that their first leg is at Windsor Park, where they’ve lost only two of their last fifteen home games.

O’Neill has already stated that the priority will be keeping a clean sheet and it’s easy to understand why. Northern Ireland are not going to prevail based on a high scoring shootout.

They will want to keep the game tight and hope for at least one moment of opportunism, be it from Steven Davis, Kyle Lafferty or anyone else.

The Swiss are better technically and you have to respect a 
squad featuring the likes of Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri.

I think Northern Ireland would accept a goalless draw now, giving them a chance of nicking it on the away goals rule when the action switches to Basel’s boisterous St Jakob Park.

I rate the Republic of Ireland’s chances slightly more highly. It’s certainly not because Denmark are any sort of soft touch. 

Far from it. The Republic just seem to have the knack of getting over the line in pressure situations. However, a World Cup place has eluded them since 2002. Martin O’Neill will be without James McCarthy but I think they have enough about them to make it through.

Italy are approaching their two-legged tie against Sweden with considerable dread. I can say this having spent much of last month travelling up the peninsula from Sorrento to Siena.

A World Cup without the Azzuri would be unthinkable. In fact their only failure to qualify was back in 1958. Yet once Italy came out of the pot in the same group as Spain, there was always going to be a likelihood of Gian Piero Ventura’s team finishing second.

Sweden, who prevented Scotland’s friendly opponents, the Dutch, from reaching the playoffs, have a potential match winner in Emil Forsberg. The RB Leipzig assist king can unlock any defence, even one featuring Bonucci and Chiellini with Buffon behind them.

In the other tie, I would expect Croatia to have too much for Greece. The Croats were unbeaten at home in the qualifying group but struggled on their travels, losing in Turkey and Iceland. Sadly there will be no visiting fans allowed in either leg due to previous incidents involving the countries.