Wednesday 12 December 2018

Ireland's anxious wait to learn opponents


New Ireland manager, Mick McCarthy. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
New Ireland manager, Mick McCarthy. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Colin Young

Ireland's drop to the third pot for today's UEFA 2020 draw, which takes place in Dublin's Convention Centre from 11.0 this morning, has undoubtedly made qualification for the finals matches at the Aviva Stadium much harder for Ireland and their new manager.

But it is deserved. Ireland have avoided the teams at their current level and must look at some of the names among the second seeds with dread. Denmark and Wales await again, the relegated Germans are in there too.

Top seeds England are obviously the team to avoid, although some of the alternatives in their pot are equally daunting. Ireland do not need to play this England team right now.

If Ireland draw England, the only bonus is they cannot be in Germany's group, which is also the case if they are grouped with Italy, Netherlands or Spain. Only two Euro 2020 Finals hosts can be in any one qualifying group to allow all the chosen teams a chance of qualifying. The 12 host nations and their pots are: Azerbaijan (5), Denmark (2), England (1), Germany (1), Hungary (4), Italy (1), Netherlands (1), Republic of Ireland (3), Romania (4), Russia (2), Scotland (3), Spain (1).

Germany's remarkable fall down the rankings since their World Cup collapse will be no consolation to the teams in Pot One or Pot Three.

The three promoted teams in Pot Two are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sweden and Ukraine, who all scraped through with mixed results against the likes of Austria, Czech Republic and Russia, who are also among the second seeds. Iceland, who lost all four games to Switzerland and Belgium, are, arguably, looking like the preferred option.

In Pot Four, only Georgia have gained promotion in the Nations League, although it was from a group containing Kazakhstan, Latvia and Andorra. They showed signs of improvement last season when they inflicted a damaging result on Ireland at the tail-end of the World Cup qualifiers, drawing in Tbilisi.

There are much more comfortable trips available to Lithuania, who failed to win a league game, Cyprus, Estonia, or even Albania - although they did beat Wales two weeks ago.

Pot Five is not without its pitfalls. Kosovo are already proving a force at this level and made huge strides as a new team and like Macedonia and Belarus, they were promoted by some distance to join the likes of Gibraltar, who won their first competitive match in Armenia in October and followed that with a 2-1 home win over Liechtenstein three days later but lost the return match with Armenia 6-2.

Liechtenstein, Latvia, Andorra, Malta and San Marino make up Pot Six. They will only be drawn in Groups E to J. Groups A to D contain England, Switzerland, Netherlands and Portugal, who have five team-groups so they can play the Nations League play-off in June 2019.


Our Worst Nightmare Group


Wales (or Sweden)

Georgia (or Romania)

Kosovo (or Macedonia)

Not Much Better

France (or Belgium / Croatia / Portugal)

Germany (or Denmark)

Romania (or Georgia)

Macedonia (or Kosovo)

Liechtenstein (or Latvia)

Dream Group

Poland (or Switzerland)

Iceland (or Austria / Czech Republic / Russia)

Lithuania (or Cyprus)

Luxembourg (or Gibraltar)

Andorra (or Malta / San Marino)

The Pots

UEFA Nations League pot (4): Switzerland, Portugal, Netherlands, England

Pot 1 (6): Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Poland

Pot 2 (10): Germany, Iceland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine, Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Austria, Wales, Czech Republic

Pot 3 (10): Slovakia, Turkey, Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Norway, Serbia, Finland, Bulgaria, Israel

Pot 4 (10): Hungary, Romania, Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Cyprus, Estonia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Georgia

Pot 5 (10): FYR Macedonia, Kosovo, Belarus, Luxembourg, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Gibraltar, Faroe Islands

Pot 6 (5): Latvia, Liechtenstein, Andorra, Malta, San Marino.

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