Plotting smooth path to Brazil top of agenda
IN the past decade, Irish delegations have made their way to fixture meetings for the next qualification campaign with the grim realisation that it is all they have to look forward to.
Thankfully, it's a different story in Frankfurt this morning, as the FAI delegation, led by John Delaney, will sit down with representatives from the other teams in Ireland's World Cup qualifying group to argue over the fixture schedule that will determine the road to Brazil.
They will empathise with the delegations from Austria, Kazakhstan and the Faroe Islands, who will seek to schedule games in a manner that will give some focus to their 2012.
After all, they have nothing exciting to plan between now and September. There is no void for Ireland, though. Just like Germany and Sweden, they will seek to negotiate the World Cup running order today, and then push it to the back of the mind as preparations for Euro 2012 continue apace.
Giovanni Trapattoni has given his employers an indication of what he wants from today's meeting. Although he is yet to sign the contract that will keep him in charge for that battle, it's only a matter of time.
And the prize is huge, bigger than reaching the European Championship finals. A World Cup in Brazil screams glamour and prestige and Trapattoni is desperate to be a part of that.
He knows that the scheduling of games can be a factor and the fact that Ireland will be coming off the back of a major tournament adds a different dimension.
Look back to 2002, when Ireland went from Japan and Korea to an opening Euro 2004 qualifier in Moscow that September. A 4-2 defeat that was followed a month later by a home reverse to Switzerland spelled the end for Mick McCarthy.
With a danger of a Euros hangover, it would perhaps be unwise to march straight into a clash with the Germans or the Swedes even though, potentially, they could suffer the same problem.
A computer decided the Euro 2012 group fixtures after Armenia refused to allow any agreement on a schedule that the other teams were broadly satisfied with.
It threw up an opening trip to Yerevan, and then a home game with Andorra in Dublin. Ironically enough, Trapattoni would be satisfied with a comparable schedule this time around -- for example, a trip to Kazakhstan and a home match with the Faroes. He would prefer to delay a clash with a big gun until October.
"In the last campaign, our first games were Armenia and Andorra -- they were not easy games, but it was still possible to get a result," he said. "Hopefully we get to decide for ourselves at the draw."
In an ideal world, the Abbotstown authorities would like to pair off some of the journeys. Germany and Austria are in relatively close proximity, while fitting in the jaunts to Sweden and Faroe Islands in one go might also make sense. Alas, as third seeds, the FAI have limited wiggle room as the general format of these meetings is that the top dogs, in this case Germany, come in with a list of demands and the others work around it.
So, there's no guarantee the Irish party will get their wishes. The good news, however, is that even if it does go wrong, they won't have to spend the next 10 months worrying about it.
Group A: Croatia, Serbia, Belgium, Scotland, Macedonia, Wales.
Group B: Italy, Denmark, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Armenia, Malta.
Group C: Germany, Sweden, Ireland, Austria, Faroe Islands, Kazakhstan.
Group D: Holland, Turkey, Hungary, Romania, Estonia, Andorra.
Group E: Norway, Slovenia, Switzerland, Albania, Cyprus, Iceland.
Group F: Portugal, Russia, Israel, Northern Ireland, Azerbaijan, Luxembourg.
Group G: Greece, Slovakia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Lithuania, Latvia, Liechtenstein.
Group H: England, Montenegro, Ukraine, Poland, Moldova, San Marino.
Group I: Spain, France, Belarus, Georgia, Finland.