Ireland's task clearer after Euros format is revealed
UEFA have announced the qualifying procedure and group sizes for the expanded Euro 2016, which will see Ireland feature as second seeds in February's draw.
As expected, European football's governing authority will proceed with a format of nine qualifying groups -- with eight of those containing six teams and one containing five. Hosts France qualify automatically.
They will formally announce the seedings in January but have stated they will be drawn from the current rankings of the UEFA national team co-efficient and that would place Ireland in Pot Two.
The top two in each group will make it to the finals as well as the best third-placed team, with the other eight third-placed sides entering a play-off and four advancing to the finals.
In the tournament itself, there will be six groups of four with the top two in each and four third-placed sides moving through to a new round of 16.
This Euros qualifying campaign is the first under the revised centralised TV deal and there will be changes to the structure of a regular competitive international week.
The 'Week of Football' idea will see matches spread across a six-day period as opposed to all the games taking place on a Friday and Tuesday. Now, Ireland could either play games on Thursday and Sunday, Friday and Monday, or Saturday and Tuesday in a double-header window.
"The fact we spread the European qualifiers over several days as opposed to all teams playing on the same day will ensure a better visibility for the competition," UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino said. "Each day of the 'Week of Football' will have eight to 10 matches as opposed to 20-30 matches on the same day."
Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane will have just one competitive fixture next September as opposed to the anticipated double-header. Instead, there will be a qualifying match in November.
EURO 2016 QUALIFYING
Matchday 1: 7/8/9 September 2014
Matchday 2: 9/10/11 October 2014
Matchday 3: 12/13/14 October 2014
Matchday 4: 14/15/16 November 2014
Matchday 5: 27/28/29 March 2015
Matchday 6: 12/13/14 June 2015
Matchday 7: 3/4/5 September 2015
Matchday 8: 6/7/8 September 2015
Matchday 9: 8/9/10 October 2015
Matchday 10: 11/12/13 October 2015
First legs: 12/13/14 November 2015
Second legs: 15/16/17 November 2015
Pot 1: Spain, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, England, Portugal, Greece, Russia, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Pot 2: Croatia, Ukraine, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium, Czech Republic, Hungary, Republic of Ireland.
Pot 3: Serbia, Turkey, Slovenia, Israel, Norway, Slovakia, Romania, Austria, Montenegro.
Pot 4: Armenia, Poland, Scotland, Finland, Latvia, Wales, Bulgaria, Estonia, Belarus
Pot 5: Iceland, Northern Ireland, Albania, Lithuania, Moldova, FYR Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Cyprus.
Pot 6: Luxembourg, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, Faroe Islands, Malta, Andorra, San Marino, Gibraltar.