Boost for O'Neill as UEFA confirm Ireland as second seeds
UEFA have confirmed that Martin O'Neill's Ireland will be second seeds in next month's Euro 2016 qualifying draw.
The FAI were expecting the news, with Romania's failure to beat Greece in both legs of November's World Cup play-offs securing a place in the Pot 2 barring a dramatic change in competition rules.
O'Neill will learn his side's fate in Nice on February 23. With the top two teams in each group qualifying automatically for the expanded 24-team finals in France, Irish expectations will be high although the Derry man could reasonably point out that a number of sides in Pot 3 and even Pot 4 are now above his group in the FIFA world rankings.
The draw will allow the plans for the rest of 2014 to take shape. While the FAI have received enquiries about summer friendlies and want to formulate their own plans for Dublin, they would not like to arrange a match with a nation and then face them in a competitive match later in the year.
England are in Pot 1, while Scotland and Wales are in Pot 4 and Northern Ireland are in Pot 5. The teams will be drawn into eight groups of six and one group of five. However, France will be added to the five-team group and incorporated into their fixture schedule but matches involving Les Bleus will count for nothing and are merely intended to keep them sharp ahead of the competition itself following complaints that previous hosts were starved of adequate match preparation in the international windows.
Pot 1 – Spain (holders), Germany, Netherlands, Italy, England, Portugal, Greece, Russia, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Pot 2 – Ukraine, Croatia, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium, Czech Republic, Hungary, Ireland.
Pot 3 – Serbia, Turkey, Slovenia, Israel, Norway, Slovakia, Romania, Austria, Poland.
Pot 4 – Montenegro, Armenia, Scotland, Finland, Latvia, Wales, Bulgaria, Estonia, Belarus.
Pot 5 – Iceland, Northern Ireland, Albania, Lithuania, Moldova, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Cyprus.
Pot 6 – Luxembourg, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, Faroe Islands, Malta, Andorra, San Marino, Gibraltar.