Thursday 23 November 2017

Your guide to Group B

Russia

Coach: Guus Hiddink

World Ranking: 13

Best Euro Championship Performance: Semi-finals 2008.

World Cup 2010 Qualification Outcome: Lost play-off on away goals to Slovenia.

Last Meeting with Ireland: ECQ: September 6, 2003: Ireland 1 Russia 1.

Star Player: Andrei Arshavin (Arsenal) -- The tricky playmaker is central to the Russian side and stopping him will be the challenge for Giovanni Trapattoni.

Summary: A considerable surprise they will not be in South Africa this summer after looking like an emerging power during the last European Championships. With Hiddink's future up in the air amid repeated interest, there could be uncertainty that Ireland would like to capitalise upon. The timing of the fixtures will be important: it would not be ideal to travel to Moscow in October.

Trivia: Trapattoni and Hiddink have a history. The Dutchman was manager of South Korea when they controversially knocked Italy out of the 2002 World Cup.

Slovakia

Coach: Vladimir Weiss

World Ranking: 36

Best Euro Championship Performance: Never qualified.

World Cup 2010 Qualification Outcome: Topped group including Czech Republic, Slovenia, Poland and Northern Ireland.

Last Meeting with Ireland: ECQ: September 8, 2007: Slovakia 2 Ireland 2

Star Player: Vladimir Weiss (Manchester City) -- The skilful winger, currently on loan at Bolton, is named after his father and made vital late contribution to World Cup campaign. Expect him to be a major player by the time next September comes around.

Summary: They may have qualified for the World Cup, but there were far tougher second seeds in the draw. With a nucleus of experienced players and an exciting crop of youngsters, Slovakia will be difficult -- yet the Irish camp will be hoping they suffer a hangover from their South African exertions. Playing them early makes sense.

Trivia: Stephen Ireland's (pictured) last appearance for Ireland came in that 2-2 draw for Slovakia. He opened the scoring in that game, but made the infamous grandmother excuses afterwards.

FYR Macedonia

Coach: Mirsad Jonuz

World Ranking: 64

Best Euro Championship Performance: Never qualified.

World Cup 2010 Qualification Outcome: Came fourth in the group won by Holland with seven points from eight games.

Last Meeting with Ireland: ECQ: October 9, 1999: Macedonia 1 Ireland 1

Star Player: Goran Pandev (Inter Milan, pictured below) -- A top Serie A striker who was recently snapped up by Jose Mourinho after agitating for a release from Lazio.

Summary: A capable side with several players operating at a decent level. They beat Scotland at home in World Cup qualifying in a game that was played in sweltering afternoon heat in Skopje. A city which holds no fond memories for Ireland fans after a defeat in 1997 and a last-minute concession in '99 that cost Mick McCarthy's side a place in Euro 2000.

Trivia: Goran Stavreski is a name that McCarthy probably never wants to hear again. It was the defender who headed that dramatic equaliser 11 years ago.

Armenia

Coach: Vardan Minasyan

World Ranking: 102

Best Euro Championship Performance: Never qualified.

World Cup 2010 Qualification Outcome: Finished bottom of group with one win and one draw from 10 games.

Last Meeting with Ireland: Never played each other.

Star Player: Artavazd Karamyan (Steaua Bucharest) -- The left-sided midfielder is a solid performer who recently earned a move to the Romanian giants.

Summary: It'll be a long trip to Yerevan to face a nation capable of pulling off the odd good result. They struggled in World Cup qualification although they were in a tough group with Spain, Bosnia and Turkey. A 2-1 defeat of Belgium was their highlight.

Trivia: Ireland may never have played in Armenia, but Derry City have. They suffered an arduous journey, via Prague, before a Champions League loss to FC Pyunik in 2007.

Andorra

Coach: Koldo Alvarez

World Ranking: 202

Best Euro Championship Performance: Never qualified.

World Cup 2010 Qualification Outcome: Lost all 10 games in England's group.

Last Meeting with Ireland: WCQ: April 25, 2001: Ireland 3 Andorra 1.

Star Player: Ildefons Lima (AC Bellinzola): The central defender plays in the Swiss league and, despite his position, is Andorra's all-time record goalscorer.

Summary: The statistics speak for themselves. Andorra have played 30 European Championship qualifiers and lost every single one of them, scoring six times and conceding 88. However, they did score in a World Cup game in Dublin in 2001, taking the lead at Lansdowne Road before conceding three times. A likely trip to Barcelona will at least give fans one trip to look forward to.

Trivia: Andorra play qualifying games in Spain because their own ground, Estadi Comunal d'Aixovall, only has a capacity of 1,800.

Irish Independent

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