Friday 28 October 2016

Everything you need to know about today's Euro 2016 play-off draw

Published 17/10/2015 | 02:30

Ireland players Shane Long and David Meyler celebrate their victory over Germany. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Germany. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Ireland players Shane Long and David Meyler celebrate their victory over Germany. UEFA EURO 2016 Championship Qualifier, Group D, Republic of Ireland v Germany. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Four years ago, when the European Championship play-off draw pitted Ireland with Estonia, the smiling FAI delegation failed to disguise their satisfaction.

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It unnerved Giovanni Trapattoni, who spent the majority of the build-up to the two-legged decider reminding the audience of Estonia's quality. Trapattoni loved a good David v Goliath metaphor but, in this instance, he said it was misplaced. "It's David v David," he insisted, ahead of the straightforward win that followed Ireland's dream scenario.

There is no Goliath lingering in the other half of tomorrow morning's draw in Nyon, but it's inevitable that the travelling party- which includes O'Neill - will have their own personal preferences even if they will never admit to them. The manager tends to choose his words carefully.

Ireland are in a different pot this time around and, while the relevance of UEFA's coefficient grading has been questioned, it's worth remembering the fate of the unseeded alternatives to Estonia in 2011. Bosnia, Turkey and Montenegro were the other options and they also failed to make it to Poland.

UEFA use a ranking chart that disregards friendlies and concentrates on the matches that matter and that system says that the quartet of seeded nations have performed better than Ireland over the past three qualification campaigns.

Ahead of the draw, here's one take on the order of preference from the Irish perspective.


1. Hungary

They know the unseeded participants want them, with the fact that top seeds Greece finished last creating the perception that the group topped by Northern Ireland was a basket case.

Hungary are a difficult side to read. Over the past half-decade, they've mixed home wins over the likes of Turkey and Sweden with chaotic displays on the road.

In the World Cup 2014 race they lost 8-1 in Holland, a follow-on from an 5-3 away loss when they landed the Dutch in a doomed Euro 2012 tilt.

In this campaign, their only losses were a 2-1 defeat to Northern Ireland on day one and a crazy 4-3 defeat to Greeks last week. Otherwise, they were a solid enough unit, winning four games by a one-goal margin and drawing the rest.

They lack star quality, with Tamas Priskin, an ex-Championship performer now based with Slovan Bratislava, their most effective striker. Clearly, they are greater than the sum of the parts.

"Almost everyone in Hungary says that they want to avoid Denmark and Ireland," says Barnabas Kantor, from Nemzeti newspaper. "Balazs Dzsudzsak, the captain, says he wants to meet Slovenia."

2. Bosnia

Robert Lewandowski made Poland a stronger proposition and, in Edin Dzeko, Bosnia have a figurehead who shoulders a lot of responsibility. He scored seven goals in qualifying, equalling the inspirational Gareth Bale's Welsh tally. His talented accomplice is German-based Vedad Ibisevic, while the gifted Roma midfielder Miralem Pjanic adds guile.

A major tournament bow in Brazil was earned after a couple of near misses, but they struggled to return to earth in the Euro qualifiers and bruising early losses to Cyprus and Israel ended their hopes of automatic progression.

They won five of their last six but that included a double header against Andorra. Vulnerabilities are there to be exploited.


3. Sweden

In Zlatan Ibrahimovic, they have a genuine superstar, albeit one who turned 34 earlier this month. Their world revolves around the PSG star.

The Swedes deservedly claiming a Dublin win in September 2013 which propelled the Scandinavians towards a play-off and spelled the end for Giovanni Trapattoni.

His regime was out of ideas, but Ireland had managed to take a point from the Friends Arena in Stockholm four months previously. It's not quite a fortress. Austria showed that by going there in September to score four goals with Zlatan in opposition.

The Swedes have capable players - Kim Kallstrom, Seb Larsson, Mikael Lustig, Ola Toivonen to name a few.

But it's the suspicion that Zlatan will rise to the challenge, as he did in a remarkable shoot-out with Ronaldo two years ago which eventually ended with Portugal outscoring their way to Brazil, that plants a seed of doubt.


4. Ukraine

The lazy mistake would be to scout the squad list and conclude that the limited number plying their trade overseas suggests they have limitations.

But Ukrainian club football is strong at the moment, as evidenced by Dnipro's run to the Europa League final last term. Along with Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk, they have a strong influence on the national side, and familiarity has bred understanding.

The creative Andriy Yarmolenko, a target for Barcelona and Chelsea, has been tipped to become a leading force in the European game. Sevilla's Yevhan Konoplyanka is showing Liverpool what they could have won.

Kiev is unappealing as winter draws in and they are keen to banish the memory of capitulating in Paris and squandering a two-goal lead from the first leg to miss out on the World Cup. They scream danger.

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