Sunday 20 May 2018

O'Neill and Strachan poised for Parkhead Euro battle

Ireland manager optimistic despite facing 'as tough a group as there is'

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill and Scotland manager Gordon Strachan
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill and Scotland manager Gordon Strachan

Daniel McDonnell In Nice

FORMER CELTIC managers Martin O'Neill and Gordon Strachan could go head to head on their old stomp-ing ground in November as Scotland's Euro 2016 tie with Ireland has been lined up for Celtic Park.

The two nations that lobbied for the European Championships to be expanded to 24 teams will lock horns in a tricky group that also contains clear favourites Germany, Poland, Georgia and newcomers Gibraltar.

Ireland will begin proceedings in Georgia in September before an October double header at home to Gibraltar and away to the Germans.

The third away match in 2014 will bring O'Neill to Scotland in November and, with Hampden Park unavailable due to its refurbishment after the Commonwealth Games, the home of Celtic has been earmarked for the Irish tie.

Scottish sources have indicated that Ibrox could stage their October joust with the Georgians, freeing the political path to stage the Ireland game at O'Neill and Strachan's previous place of employment.

"We will discuss stadium venue plans as a board and with the relevant clubs in due course," said SFA chairman Campbell Ogilvie.

O'Neill is enthused by that idea, but considers it a challenging group overall.

"It's as tough a group as there is," said O'Neill. "And we have three of our first four games away from home against seriously tough opposition, but the draw has been made and nobody can alter things.

"It's a tough start for us but one that we're still looking forward to.

"That (Celtic Park) would be great if that's the case. I've only been back a couple of times and haven't gone there for a competitive game. It would be terrific if it fell into the calendar."

Strachan believes it will be a four-way race for second behind Germany (Ireland's penultimate game), but O'Neill refused to talk in those terms.

"I think it's a bit defeatist," he said, "They are the stand-out team and expected to go and sweep all before them. But at home, if we give a really proper approach, there is no reason why we can't give them a game. Those might be famous last words."

The Ireland boss, who was joined in Nice by his assistant Roy Keane, will kick off competitive business on Sunday, September 7 in Tbilisi. With a 5.0 kick-off Irish time, that match will clash with the All-Ireland Hurling final.

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