Ireland faced with prospect of a long and winding road
AFTER a trip to Moscow last week was rendered pointless by the stubborn behaviour of the Armenian delegation, the run of play for Ireland's Euro 2012 campaign will be randomly decided in Tel Aviv today.
The FAI will have to accept the outcome of a draw which will determine the fixtures for the six teams in Group B vying for a place in the finals in Poland and Ukraine.
In Russia, the Irish visitors came close to agreeing their schedule and managed to overcome a significant hurdle by successfully negotiating the dates for the meetings with the top two seeds -- the hosts of that summit and Slovakia.
Alas, those arrangements were made irrelevant by persistent vetoes from the Armenian side of the table. With no compromise reached, it's back to square one and the entire rota is subject to developments at UEFA Congress today, 2.30 local time (12.30 Irish).
As the graphic demonstrates, a schedule for unresolved groups (three other groups met with similar problems) with six teams has already been constructed with the participants identified by the letters A-F. Today's draw will assign each nation to a letter.
Why is this significant? From a logistical point of view, the respective nations will have clear travel preferences in a group where vast journeys will have to be undertaken.
The FAI strategy last week revolved around pairing up difficult trips to reduce costs and travel time. They had managed to secure the sojourns to Armenia and Russia as part of a double-header in March 2011, in addition to travelling to both Macedonia and Slovakia in the space of five days in September 2011.
Moreover, with the new Lansdowne Road opening this year, the FAI had lined up three home fixtures to begin with to hit the ground running. The marquee visit of Russia was pencilled in for October, with Andorra first up in September.
Now, the powers that be have no control over who will be the first team to provide opponents for a competitive fixture at the Aviva-sponsored stadium, or when they must encounter the likely candidates for top spot.
It's unlikely to be ideal whichever letter the FAI are landed with, but the preference would be to be drawn as either A or D. They are the only two nations who will have a set of double-headers both home and away.
Team A will play two games at home this October, which was part of the FAI's original plan. Team D will have two home games in quick succession in September next year.
However, every option leaves open the risk of having to play an away game in a far-flung destination such as Russia or Armenia on a Friday night, and then having to return to play a qualifier in Dublin on the Tuesday or vice versa; the exact scenario which the FAI wished to avoid in the first place when they travelled to Moscow for the original fixture meeting.
There are free dates on the calendar -- as demonstrated in the graphic -- in addition to another friendly date in November of this year, which means that, technically, fixtures can be moved around.
However, if Ireland wanted to move a particular game, they don't just need the consent of their scheduled opponent on that date. All the other teams in the group would also have to sanction a departure from the rigid-enough timetable.
Given how difficult it was for all concerned to find common ground in Moscow, it's almost certain that Giovanni Trapattoni will have to deal with the hand he is given this afternoon.