Thursday, November 15th will see Northern Ireland take on the Republic of Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin in what promises to be an intriguing international friendly match.
It will be the first time that the two countries have met on a football pitch since May 2011 apart from a behind closed doors training exercise at the same venue prior to Euro 2016. It will also be the first time that both managers, Michael and Martin O’Neill, have met as rivals in a more recognised fixture. It’s set to be a useful outing for both teams for a variety of reasons.
It’s somewhat surprising that the two countries still have their current managers in charge as both were heavily linked with moves elsewhere. News and sports sites like Betting.com tipped Michael O’Neill as the front runner for the Scotland job and he had also been linked with a return to club management prior to putting pen to paper on a new contract with the North this week. Martin O’Neill is often touted with returning to the club scene and somewhat controversially for Republic fans was in contention to take over at Stoke City, before he eventually knocked back their advances.
The mid November friendly between the two countries will allow both teams to properly prepare themselves for their final round of games in the new UEFA Nations League, which will take place the following weekend. Northern Ireland will be playing host to Austria on Sunday the 18th of November at Windsor Park, while the Republic will be going up against World Cup play-off conquerors Denmark the day after.
UEFA had in fact made it mandatory that a friendly should be played on the 15th and while there are always options to play sides in Europe, it means that both sides can prepare and train in their usual environments for their final games in the UEFA Nations League. Given their rivalry, the game will likely prove to be a competitive affair providing a good test rather than being just another throwaway fixture, something the new UEFA competition was designed to do away with.
It will be a telling period for both countries in terms of the UEFA Nations League too. Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland both made it to Euro 2016, but both narrowly missed out on qualifying for a place at this year’s World Cup in Russia. Both nations have now turned their attentions to qualifying for Euro 2020 and the UEFA Nations League is a potential route they can go down to get to the tournament itself.
Michael O’Neill’s men will go up against Bosnia and Herzegovina and Austria in the Nation’s League while Martin O’Neill’s charges have been drawn to face Denmark and Wales. You could say it’s the Republic of Ireland who will face the sterner test in the league but Austria and Bosnia aren’t going to be pushovers for the North, especially as everyone is looking to get to Euro 2020 as quickly as possible.