Friday 28 April 2017

Kevin Palmer assesses Ireland's possible Euro 2016 play-off opponents

Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic is probably the most high profile player Ireland could face
Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic is probably the most high profile player Ireland could face
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

The Republic of Ireland will discover their fate in the Euro 2016 play-offs draw on Sunday and here is our guide to the rivals they could face:

BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA (UEFA ranking 13)

Coach: Mehmed Bazdarevic

Star turn: Edin Dzeko

Best asset: Chelsea keeper Asmir Begovic is a fine last line of defence for Bosnia.

Weak spot: Bosnia struggled to find their form away from home and their 3-0 defeat in Israel last November highlighted their frailties.

This experienced team of seasoned performers would represent a tough nut for Ireland to crack, with the presence of former Manchester City star Edin Dzeko leading their line giving them star quality.

They finished third in a tough group containing Belgium and Wales and will fancy their chance of emerging through the play-offs.

Verdict: Not unbeatable, but they would pose threats to the Ireland defensive line that will be without the suspended John O'Shea for the first leg of the play-off.

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UKRAINE (UEFA ranking 14)

Coach: Mykhaylo Fomenko

Star turn: Yevhen Konoplyanka

Best asset: Ukraine’s solid defence conceded just four goals in their Group C qualifying campaign.

Weak spot: They failed to score a single goal in four matches against the top two teams in their group.

Ukraine would present a difficult challenge for Ireland to overcome, especially away from home and yet they are a side that lack a cutting edge in front of goal.

Sevilla's Yevhen Konoplyanka, who was strongly linked with a move to Liverpool last year, is a star turn and the threat of Dynamo Kiev striker Andriy Yarmolenko would also concern Ireland.

Verdict: While Ireland would be second favourites to beat Ukraine, their lack of goal power would give Martin O'Neill's side hope.

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SWEDEN (UEFA ranking 16)

Coach: Erik Hamren

Star turn: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Best asset: Their best asset is also their weakness in some respects as they have an over reliance on Ibrahimovic, who scored eight times in Euro 2016 qualifying.

Weak spot: Their 4-1 defeat at home to Austria last month was a major shock to the Swedish players and their media was quick to turn on them. A hangover from that match is inevitable.

Ireland have recent experience of clashes against the Swedes as they were our chief rivals in the last World Cup qualifying campaign, with a battling 0-0 away from home backed up by a 2-1 home defeat that all-but ended qualification hopes for Giovanni Trapattoni's side.

Sweden have struggled to hit top form in their Euro 2016 qualifiers, drawing too many games and suffering a heavy 4-1 home defeat against Austria. As with every team in the play-offs they have their weaknesses.

Verdict: The Ibrahimovic factor would unsettle Ireland, but we should have nothing to fear if we are off to Scandinavia next month.

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HUNGARY (UEFA ranking 20)

Coach: Bernd Storck

Star turn: Tamas Priskin

Best asset: Coach Stock talks up the fine team spirit he has generated among his player during his time as Hungary boss.

Weak spot: Their lack of top class match winners help them back in a weak qualifying group.

Okay, we all want to be drawn against Hungary in the Euro 2016 play-offs, but you will probably find they are keen to be paired with Ireland as well.

The side that were denied automatic qualification as the best third place finisher by Turkey's late winner on Tuesday night will be as frustrated to be in the play-offs as Ireland and they could be unsettled by a raucous Dublin crowd. Finishing third behind Northern Ireland and Romania is hardly a triumph worth shouting about.

Verdict: Can we have Hungary please?

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