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Monday 23 January 2017

RIVAL CANDIDATES: IRELAND'S EUROPEAN QUALIFIER OPPONENTS

Published 29/08/2010 | 05:00

Russia

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They may not be the force of two years ago when Guus Hiddink led them to the semi-final of the European Championships, but under his compatriot Dick Advocaat Russia remain, on their day, one of the most devastating teams in Europe. Their problem is that it's increasingly difficult to predict when 'their day' will be. Germany were the only team to beat them in World Cup qualifying, but then they lost to a poor Slovenia side in the play-offs. It's a squad packed full of quality but both Ireland and Slovakia will hope they can win their home games against them to turn the group into a three-horse race.

World ranking: 16

World Cup 2010 campaign: Lost to Slovenia in qualifying play-offs

Slovakia

It would be helpful if Slovakia have a World Cup hangover which remains until Ireland visit in October. After their performance in South Africa, there is every chance that it might. Vladimir Weiss' side were average in their opening two games, but came alive to beat Italy and were unlucky in their exit to Holland in the last 16. Though he had a poor World Cup, Napoli's Marek Hamsik remains their star man but there is strength throughout a squad which contains players from many European leagues, but very few of the MSK Zilina side which reached the Champions League group stage on Wednesday.

World ranking: 27

World Cup 2010 campaign: Lost to Holland in Last 16

Macedonia

The very mention of playing Macedonia in Skopje should be enough to cause Ireland fans to shudder. The scars of an away defeat in 1997 and a last-minute equaliser which prevented qualification for Euro 2000 remain, and it will need to be a polished Irish performance in the June heat next year if they are to avoid a hat-trick of Macedonian traumas. Inter's Goran Pandev is the side's talisman, while Dinamo Kiev's stopper Goran Popov will marshal the defence. The Dutch were the only team to leave Macedonia with all three points in World Cup qualifying and their away record is getting progressively better.

World ranking: 66

World Cup 2010 campaign: 4th in qualifying group

Armenia

Ireland have struggled against worse teams in the past, and so Yerevan is a tricky place to begin a qualifying campaign. Armenia are now under the managership of 36-year-old Vardan Minasyan, who is technically in his third stint in charge. None of their squad play their club football in any of Europe's major leagues, but there are signs Armenia are progressing. They beat Belgium at home in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup and Poland in Euro 2008 qualifying. With the exception of a 4-0 defeat away to Spain and a 4-1 loss away at Bosnia and Herzegovina, they avoided heavy defeats and will provide a stubborn opposition.

World ranking: 96

World Cup 2010 campaign: 6th in qualifying group

Andorra

Andorra are one of the few remaining teams in Europe that make a mockery of the perceived wisdom that there are no easy games in international football. There is absolutely no reason why Ireland should take anything less than six points off Andorra, although England were made to work hard for their 2-0 win in Barcelona in World Cup qualification. Andorra scored one of their 18 goals in international football when they took the lead at Lansdowne Road during qualification for the 2002 World Cup. That was an embarrassment at the time. If Ireland are to reach the finals, there can be no slip-ups against Andorra.

World ranking: 201

World Cup 2010 campaign: 6th in qualifying group

-- EVAN FANNING

Sunday Independent

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