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Nothing to cause us alarm about any of our Group B opponents

THE only problem Giovanni Trapattoni has to deal with after what can only be described as a kind Euro 2012 draw is the big lift in expectations which must be faced following a World Cup campaign that came within a hair's breadth of success.

After Thierry Henry and Paris, everybody connected with the Irish team felt a terrible emptiness and while this draw won't heal those wounds, it will help to have something new to think about.

It will also help a great deal that this group is as good as it gets. Over the years, Ireland has generally had to deal with one top nation and another not too far behind, but Slovakia haven't been at this for too long and I think their second seeding creates a somewhat false picture of their strength.

They had a good qualification series for South Africa with seven wins out of ten and came through a play-off against a fancied Polish team to make it to the finals, but I'm not sure they have the playing resources to sustain form like that over the long haul.

Run a finger down through the teams Ireland will have to play and there' s nothing there to cause any alarm. Group top seeds Russia will be the obvious threat but they didn't qualify for South Africa either and there's no guarantee that Guus Hiddink will still be around to match wits with Trapattoni.

For me, that could be crucial. The Russians have always been handy and Hiddink brought organisation and discipline to the table when he took on the job, but who knows what might happen squad morale if the Dutchman moves on to any of the big jobs he has been linked with in recent weeks.

If he goes, the Russian players will not react well, I'm sure of that. It's a good reason to get them to Lansdowne Road as early as possible.





BIG BREAK

Ireland should have beaten Slovakia in Bratislava during the Euro 2008 qualification series and given the other second pot seeds and what might have been, I feel Trapattoni will see this as a big break.

After that, we're into the minnows and apart from some difficult travelling conditions, there's no reason to think that the away results that would make a runner-up spot certain will be too difficult.

From the FAI's point of view, I know this draw doesn't look great financially. None of the teams carry the prospect of big television money and because of the distance involved in getting to some of the venues, the expense involved in the group will be steep enough.

But the key to this is qualification and if Trapattoni can do what Jack Charlton did back in '88, then the FAI can cash in in a big way.

On a purely practical level, the travelling can be a big chore but I don't think it's anything like it used to be -- it's certainly different than it was in my day.

These days, every effort is made to give the players the right conditions to work in and if that means a first class seat and the best hotel in town, well that's fine by me.

Sure, Armenia and Macedonia are the type of places you want to spend as little time in as possible, but with the greatest return in terms of points.

Trapattoni will target the full six points available from Macedonia, Armenia and Andorra and as ever, the group will be decided in the top three seeded positions.

But he knows now that he has a group of players capable of pushing two of the best teams in the world -- Italy and France -- very close indeed and I think this will give him great confidence.

He will have to manage expectations but he's been a successful manager for so long now that I don't think he will have any problem doing that.

All in all, this was a good draw and I genuinely believe that by the time the dust has settled in late 2011, Ireland could easily be sitting pretty at the top of the group.


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