'The draw couldn't have been tougher' - Martin O'Neill's on Ireland's Group of Death
IRELAND will play Belgium, Italy and Sweden in Euro 2016 next summer, with this evening's draw in Paris presenting a difficult test for the Boys in Green.
Martin O'Neill's side will kick off the tournament in the capital, taking on Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Sweden in Stade de France on the evening of Monday June 13.
They will then travel to Bordeaux to lock horns with Belgium, the top ranked team in the world, on the afternoon of Saturday June 18.
Their final group game will take place against Italy, the nightmare option from Pot 2, in Lille on Wednesday June 22.
The draw was progressing well for Ireland after they landed Belgium from Pot 1, with Germany, Spain and hosts France the unattractive options in that category.
And there were tougher options lingering in Pot 3, although Sweden - who also came through the play-offs - will provide difficult opposition.
However, Pot 2 was always likely to have a big say on the difficulty of the pool and drawing Italy makes it an extremely difficult pool.
The slight advantage for O'Neill's men is that they will take on the Azzurri in their final match in Lille on Wednesday June 22. Indeed, that round of fixtures will bring down the curtain on the group phase which means that if Ireland are in the shake-up to qualify as one of the four best third placed teams, they will know exactly what they need to do to make the round of 16.
"The matches will be very difficult. But they are games to look forward to and we have a couple of months to prepare for them," said Ireland manager Martin O'Neill after the draw in Paris.
"[The draw] couldn't have been tougher. There are lots of plots and sub-plots, I don't think the fans' enthusiasm will be diminished by the draw, in fact I think they might even be enhanced.
"They are big games to look forward to, a really tough draw, and we'll see what develops."
England and Wales will meet for the first time in a major tournament after they were drawn in the same group for Euro 2016.
Roy Hodgson's men take on Chris Coleman's side on Thursday June 16 in Lens in what will be the teams' second match in Group B.
It was the draw Coleman had been hoping to avoid, but Russia and Slovakia are the other opponents in the group meaning the most daunting rivals had been avoided.
Northern Ireland were drawn in Group C with world champions Germany, plus Poland and Ukraine.
Ireland's Euro 2016 fixtures (Irish time):
Ireland v Sweden, Mon Jun 13 Stade de France (5pm)
Ireland v Belgium, Sat June 18 Bordeaux (2pm)
Ireland v Italy, Wed June 22 Lille (8pm)
Euro 2016 draw in full
France, Switzerland, Romania, Albania
England, Russia, Slovakia, Wales
Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Northern Ireland
Spain, Croatia, Czech Republic, Turkey
Belgium, Italy, Sweden, Republic of Ireland
Portugal, Austria, Hungary, Iceland