Saturday 24 March 2018

Euro 2012 play-off diary: Ref's glowing CV

Martin Hansson will forever be infamous in Ireland after his cock-up in Paris two years ago, so let's hope that this week's referees stay out of the headlines.

Certainly, UEFA have assigned a big gun for tomorrow's first leg in Tallinn, with Hungarian Viktor Kassai in charge.

Kassai (right) is a highly-regarded young official.

The 35-year-old made the cut for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and managed the semi-final clash of Spain and Germany.

Then, he was awarded a special honour earlier this year when he was the man in the middle for the Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United at Wembley Stadium.

A similarly low-key performance would be welcomed here, although the football may be of a slightly lower standard.

Dreaded 'odds-on' tag...

Ireland are trying to avoid the favourites tag this week, but they can't avoid it.

In fact, the bookies have made Giovanni Trapattoni's team the shortest priced of the eight competing play-off sides to make next summer's finals in Poland and Ukraine.

Ireland are a best priced 4/11 to book their ticket over the next week, with Portugal 2/5 to advance past Bosnia. The Czech Republic -- who are at home first -- are 4/7 to see off Montenegro, while Croatia are 4/6 in their standout tie with Turkey.

The Turks are 11/10, Montenegro 5/4, Bosnia 7/4 and Estonia 2/1.

... But Hitzfield isn't sure

Swiss manager Ottmar Hitzfeld won't be getting involved at those odds, though.

The experienced German was canvassed by UEFA for his thoughts on all four games and said: "Ireland against Estonia is a match on a knife edge," before adding, "They are two teams that have surprisingly finished in second place."

Hitzfeld went on to say that Ireland have more quality and will be a danger at set-pieces -- national stereotype alert -- but his shock at Ireland finishing ahead of Slovakia should give an indication of the perception of our team overseas.

Hence, the widespread respect across the continent for Giovanni Trapattoni's performance, even if the natives here remain uncon- vinced with many suggesting that he should go even if Ireland qualify.

It's unlikely Hitzfeld would agree.

Number of the day

2000 A conservative estimate of how many Irish fans are making the journey to Estonia. Only 1,400 tickets are officially available to visitors, so huge numbers are travelling without tickets. 1,000 Estonian fans are expected in the Aviva Stadium next Tuesday.

Daniel McDonnell

Irish Independent

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