Kind draw leaves bittersweet taste
Irish chances on the field come at expense of marquee name and chance to swell FAI coffers
Published 08/02/2010 | 05:00
A bittersweet Euro 2012 qualifying draw for the FAI.
Good news for Giovanni Trapattoni and his players, bad news for John Delaney and his staff. Ranked as a third seed, Ireland's qualification chances were always going to hinge on the identity of the top two sides in their group and, in that context, a combination of Russia and Slovakia is attractive when you consider the alternatives.
Alas, for the cash-strapped FAI, who urgently need to put bums on seats and secure attractive TV rights deals to help their commitment towards the Aviva Stadium, it is a disastrous outcome. CEO Delaney tried to put a brave face on it while acknowledging there is no great financial benefit in drawing the Russians.
Throw in long trips to Macedonia and Armenia, and there's a travel expense that will also prove unattractive to supporters. Bottom seeds Andorra, who play their home games in Barcelona, are the handiest and friendliest option of the five teams.
While the authorities at Abbotstown knock their heads together to figure out how to make the best of a bad situation, Trapattoni will concentrate on the football side of things and he agreed with the sentiment that Ireland could have done a lot worse.
Ahead of the World Cup qualifying campaign, the 70-year-old spoke of his new charges being engaged in a battle for second place, yet the events in the Paris and the overall consistency in that campaign means that top spot is now considered a realistic target.
"It's not bad," said Trapattoni, who didn't wish to dwell on the French debacle in his first major appearance since that tempestuous night. "It's possible to achieve the qualification. I was afraid about Spain and Germany.
"Two teams are hard, Russia and Slovakia, because they are strong teams. But we have showed in the past that we can play against every team -- like Italy and France. Ireland have shown that we can play against all the famous teams."
The fact that Ireland are unbeaten away from home under Trapattoni is reassuring ahead of a campaign where the resolution on the road will be tested and the upcoming fixtures meeting in Slovakia, provisionally pencilled in for February 20 in Bratislava, will be significant.
Avoiding Macedonia and Armenia in warm times of the year will reduce the difficulty of those encounters. Similarly, Moscow in cold temperatures, on the plastic pitch, would be arduous. Trapattoni feels that the experience of the last campaign will be prescient for the challenges ahead.
"We can play with the same mentality and the same belief. That is important. Away games are always difficult and these are not easy countries. It's important we play like we did in the last few games, like in Bulgaria."
The weakness of the Bulgarians, who changed manager during the World Cup 2010 race, certainly made Ireland's path to the play-offs easier.
In that context, Ireland will watch Slovakia's exploits at this summer's World Cup with interest. The emerging nation won their qualifying group and will make their debut at a major finals. Certainly, they have advanced from the last European Championships campaign, when they managed to finish behind an Irish team managed by Steve Staunton.
In the past, Ireland have benefited from catching such nations on the rebound and it would be no surprise if the FAI targeted a September meeting with the Slovaks that would be pivotal to the overall outcome.
With the association now flexible enough with respect to fixtures as they return to a renovated Lansdowne Road, they have the option of kicking off with a home match. Given the identity of the other nations in the group, it's also likely that the campaign will include a double-header away trip.
Naturally, given that they are borrowing to finance their contribution to the new Aviva Stadium, the FAI would like another glamour fixture there this year to follow on from the launch game against Argentina. However, in recent campaigns, they have preferred to welcome the big guns to Dublin at the conclusion, so the negotiating team will have plenty to consider.
So too will the money men. Delaney's old foe Brian Kerr, present in his capacity as Faroe Islands manager, summed up the Irish predicament.
"I think from the football perspective, Trapattoni is quite happy," he said. "I would think that the association less so. I think selling expensive seats for games with Andorra, Armenia, Macedonia. I don't know if I'd want to be buying €60, €70, or €80 apiece per game."
When the figure of €32,000 -- the ludicrous top-end price for a 10-year ticket for the new stadium -- was put to Kerr in response, he laughed. Delaney was in no mood for joking though, when the financial effect of the draw was discussed.
"Russia would be poor," he said, "They wouldn't be in the same league as the other top seeds.
"Qualifying is the main aim," he continued before moving on to the issue of cash again. "I don't think there'll be any difficulty; there'll be no general admission tickets for sale (for home games). They'll all be sold to our existing block bookers -- that won't be an issue.
"If you take the premium seats and corporate boxes out, you're left with 34 to 35,000 general admission tickets. We have 53,000 block bookers in Croke Park, so we'll have to divide them among the existing block bookers.
"We're going to be respectful of the 32,000 who were with us in the old stadium -- most of them carried through to Croke Park and most of them will come back to the new stadium. They're the ones who will have the first call."
Of course, the major issue for the association is the sale of those corporate and premium seats, with Delaney, not surprisingly, refusing to detail where they stand in that regard.
That saga will continue, although it's of no great interest to Trapattoni who will continue to pick up his wages.
If he takes Ireland back to these parts, he'll have earned them. This time around, he can have no complaints about the luck of the draw.