Euro 2012 draw: Hoping to hit the jackpot
IRISH fans may already be booking holidays, saving cash and checking out camper vans, but the real planning for Euro 2012 will begin after tonight's draw in the grand surrounds of the Palace Ukraina.
All eyes will be trained on Kiev, where the great and the good of European football have descended for the official launch of the countdown to next summer. The visiting Irish delegation will learn the identity of their opponents for the eagerly anticipated return to the top table and will also find out which of the two host nations will play host to their games.
Giovanni Trapattoni (pictured) is naturally interested in the logistics, but his priority is concentrating on football affairs. His homework for the next six months will be dictated by the outcome of this exercise.
The 72-year-old is delighted to be rubbing shoulders with the elite of the game, and was overjoyed to bump into his former player, the Polish great, Zbigniew Boniek, as he checked into his hotel in Kiev. Boniek was greeted warmly by the FAI party given that he is the man who performed the play-off draw that landed Ireland with Estonia.
There's less pressure going into this evening's event considering that making it here was the primary goal. Considering Ireland are in Pot 4, logic dictates they will land a tough group whatever happens. After all, this is the cream of the continent's crop.
Nevertheless, the fact that Poland and Ukraine are listed as top seeds offers a glimmer of hope, even if Trapattoni has suggested he would like to avoid the local favourites. A bitter experience in South Korea with Italy back in 2002 is the reason for that.
Overall, though, Spain, Germany and England are the three teams he wishes to escape. The first two are understandable, but some players and fans would disagree with the latter. Ahead of this evening's draw, the Irish Independent rates the attractiveness of the potential options.
POT 1: POLAND
An ideal draw on every level. Not only would it help out from a travel point of view, but they are also the most suitable opposition for Ireland from the four available options. Neither of the host countries are to be feared, but, technically, Poland would be less intimidating -- even if Trap is paranoid about home bias.
POT 2: ENGLAND
Trapattoni has suggested that the emotion of the game could affect the side's focused mentality, but that shouldn't take away from the fact that an English side shorn of Wayne Rooney is nothing to be concerned about.
The players would fancy their chances in a game that would take on a derby feel. Indeed, it's an occasion that generally bring the best out of Irish sides.
POT 3: GREECE
The Greeks produced the goods when it mattered to qualify automatically, registering an impressive success over Croatia. Nevertheless, Trapattoni would be confident about locking horns with a side whose Euro 2004 exploits he defines as a classic case of what can be achieved with a bit of belief.
Collectively, the Greeks are better than the sum of their parts.
POT 1: UKRAINE
They are outside the top 50 in the world ranking and a veteran Andrei Shevchenko remains their captain, but they have a sprinkling of talented performers in other areas and should thrive in the summer heat of Kiev. Still, that wouldn't be enough to give any Irish player sleepless nights.
POT 2: ITALY
Another power that Trapattoni has said he would like to steer clear of, given the personal significance. His old pal Cesare Prandelli led the Azzurri to the finals with a degree of comfort, but Trap's Ireland have won once and drawn twice in three meetings with his homeland. He knows how to nullify them.
POT 3: SWEDEN
Ireland's World Cup qualifying opponents made it to the finals as the best runners-up and displayed a clinical edge in seeing off the lesser lights. Like Trapattoni, Swedish coach Erik Hamrem has a dressing-room where several leading figures are the wrong side of 30. They are beatable.
POT 1: HOLLAND
The Dutch are an efficient machine, now more suited to the stereotype than their German neighbours. Steamrolled their way to qualification with a mix of power and precision. Certainly, their approach in South Africa last summer was more Total Recall than Total Football.
POT 2: RUSSIA
The good people at Sky Sports News recently identified Russia as Ireland's dream draw from Pot 2. They obviously didn't watch the two games in qualifying. Dick Advocaat's team operate in a way that exposes flaws in Trap's system and they shone in a major tournament environment in 2008.
POT 3: PORTUGAL
Paulo Bento's side are hard to predict, and they needed to come through the play-off route to make it here. Even then, they almost lost their way against Bosnia, but ended up scoring six goals.
Fittingly enough, if they were a footballer, they would probably be Nani. It just depends what day you catch them on.
POT 1: SPAIN
Sure, there's been a few wobbles in the past year, including a recent friendly defeat to England when the decision to withdraw Xavi early showed where the result ranked in the list of priorities.
They remain the benchmark, and their ability to mix a dominance of possession with incision would cause nightmares for Trap.
POT 2: GERMANY
The form team right now who would be top seeds if it weren't for UEFA's insistence that the hosts are top seeds. Took no prisoners in qualifying with 10 wins from 10, and the young side that burst onto the scene in South Africa have matured further in the intervening period. No thanks.
POT 3: CROATIA
Sure, it ended scoreless when Slaven Bilic's men visited in August, but there was no intensity about that game and it was obvious the Croats were superior on the ball and tactically comfortable with Ireland's modus operandi. With a majestic Luka Modric pulling the strings, they make least appeal in their section.
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