Armenia refuse to play ball at summit meeting as Irish Euro schedule left in lap of the gods
IRELAND'S Euro 2012 qualifying prospects will be determined by the luck of the draw for a second time after the competing nations in Group B failed to reach agreement on a fixture schedule when they met in Moscow yesterday.
Armenia proved the stumbling block, vetoing a number of proposed games and proving extremely difficult to compromise with. The schedule will now be determined by UEFA at their congress in Tel Aviv next week.
It will effectively be a random draw with no real consideration to travel concerns, although climate factors are included in calculations.
The FAI delegation, led by John Delaney, had agreed dates for nine of their 10 games and were prepared to go with a bold strategy by starting off with three home games against Andorra and main rivals Russia and Slovakia in September, October and November respectively. That would have given a major edge to the opening of the new Lansdowne Road, but placed Giovanni Trapattoni's side under extreme pressure at an early stage.
Alas, those negotiations are irrelevant now, as UEFA draw up the fixtures with a clean slate, failing to take into account any matches that were agreed before the Armenian contingent -- whose manager Vardin Minasyan was ruling out options via telephone -- took centre stage.
Delaney admitted that it had been a frustrating exercise, but says that he is not too perturbed about losing control of the schedule and added that Trapattoni felt the same after a phone discussion with the 70-year-old.
"We're disappointed but it was almost expected as I said last week," said Delaney. "Normally there is some talks beforehand which are productive but not really this time so I always feared that it would be a hard one.
"What is strange is that the top three seeds, ourselves, Russia and Slovakia had all agreed when to play each other and, normally, when that happens things fall into place.
"But there was one country, I don't want to say who, who was vetoing everything. It's easy to say no all the time but sometimes you have to say yes, it was frustrating. I think you need the experience of being at these meetings.
"We had agreed nine out of 10 fixtures, we had compromised a lot on them. We had agreed to play Slovakia at home on the November friendly date which was not ideal for either of us as we could only get our players 48 hours before the game. It was a big step by Slovakia as they agreed to come to Dublin on that date.
"We had also agreed to play Russia and Armenia away on the same trip and Macedonia and Slovakia away at the same time.
"I spoke to Giovanni and he didn't expect it to be any different. He felt it was going to end up with UEFA anyway so his attitude is let UEFA get on with it. He wasn't that concerned when we play anyone."
Ireland could face a logistical nightmare if UEFA's system does not pair some of the long journeys off as double-headers. The planned jaunt to Russia and Armenia in March, and then to Macedonia and Slovakia in September, would have reduced costs and travel time.
Now, those games could be split up and become single journeys which means there is a possibility that the Irish would finish a home game on a Friday night and then immediately have to prepare for a gruelling journey to the Armenian capital of Yerevan, the furthest-flung destination in the group, for a Tuesday evening encounter.
"There is no way of saying to UEFA, listen, we'd agreed a few games and can we keep them," said Delaney. "They do take climate into account but that won't affect us in this case.
"Travel is not an issue and whether we could get double-headers or not. Either way, it's in the lap of the gods but it's not a big issue for Giovanni or ourselves. We'll get the logistics right once we know when we're playing."
The shortest trip which Ireland face is to take on group minnows Andorra, although there could be a novelty value there as well. Given their poor facilities, the nation which boasts the highest capital city in Europe generally stages home competitive internationals in Barcelona -- where they hosted Ireland in a World Cup qualifier in 2001.
However, the Andorra delegation have indicated to the FAI that they would like to stage the latest Irish visit on their own soil. For now, that's a minor discussion relative to the bigger, uncertain picture.