Ireland hoping to hit jackpot
THE players crave an easy draw and the fans will hope for the same -- along with some attractive destinations -- but, for the FAI delegation at tonight's draw for the 2014 World Cup 2014 qualifiers, in Rio di Janeiro the best-case scenario would be landing a group with earning potential.
An unattractive Euro 2012 group featuring Russia and Slovakia did little for the association's finances, and landing a big gun like a Germany or England would help service the FAI's €50m debt.
The key is TV rights, with smaller associations like Ireland always conscious of the serious boost to the coffers that drawing a major nation brings.
With Giovanni Trapattoni's men third seeds, the financial value will effectively be determined by the teams they land from Pot 1 and Pot 2.
This is the last time for a while that FAI chief executive John Delaney will have to worry about the luck of the draw in a monetary sense.
The recent announcement from UEFA that TV rights money will be centralised for four years from 2014 removes the prospect of variable rewards from the Euro 2016 and World Cup 2018 competitions.
Instead, a fixed sum of €10m per year will be paid to all associations. It provides a safety net in the event of ending up in another unglamorous section.
While the FAI could conceivably collect that amount from a dream draw, it's an outside bet.
However, the FAI will have to be continually repaying the banks between now and 2014, so, for the sake of short-term cashflow, a big name outcome from Brazil tonight would be most welcome.
Drawing Germany in Euro 2008 was worth close to €10m for the FAI and, while the world has changed since then, they are always an attractive option.
Ireland haven't been in the same group as England since Euro '92, and their last meeting was the aborted Lansdowne friendly in 1995.
Throw in the associated spin-offs and commercial possibilities, and they could rival Germany in terms of attractiveness.
Even if they miss out on each other, there is confidence that England will visit the Aviva Stadium for a friendly in the next year, although Delaney was less certain of the time frame when questioned at the recent AGM in Ennis.
Italy and Spain are other lucrative options from Pot 1. From a football point of view, anyone of Norway, Croatia or Greece would be a better draw, but the bean counters wouldn't be as enamoured.
The value of a team in TV rights sense is drawn from how much the highest bidding broadcaster is willing to pay for their trip to Dublin. Last October's joust with Russia was worth just €250,000 to the FAI.
Russia are down to Pot 2 now, where Sweden, Denmark and Turkey would be a reasonable outcome for the financial picture.
However, the clear standout is France -- an encounter which would command worldwide interest after the infamous events of November, 2009 in Paris.
With respect to Pots 4-6, the priority would be to avoid gruelling journeys and perhaps land teams who could bring a decent travelling support and give a boost to general admission ticket sales. In that regard, Scotland and Northern Ireland would stand out in Pot 4; they would bring more for a qualifier than they did for May's Carling Nations Cup. Poland, who drew on their huge ex-pat community to dominate the crowd in a friendly match at Croke Park in 2008, would also be considered a nice return.
The lottery begins at 7.0 (Irish time), with the European section, which will be drawn by former Brazil ace Ronaldo, expected to start at around 8.30.