With the Euro 2016 draw taking place in Nice on Sunday, and Ireland among the second seeds, qualification for France should be easier, in theory. But a look at some of the lower ranked teams suggests Martin O’Neill has plenty of work on his hands.
Given our recent record under Giovanni Trapattoni, the top sides in Pot 1 represent a real headache for the new Irish boss.
In recent seasons, we’ve been dealt football lessons by defending champions Spain, Germany, and Russia. We also tasted defeat to Italy at Euro 2012 but in the previous three meetings managed two draws and an unlikely friendly win.
Irish fans would relish a shot at England, especially after our showing in Wembley last year. Our dream draw would most likely see us pitted against Greece, or Bosnia & Herzogovina, though both will be in Brazil this summer while we watch from our armchairs at home.
Pot three has the potential for some very tricky ties for Ireland. The reality is that, along with Hungary, we are the weakest side among the second seeds and every team below us will dream of drawing the Irish at the Palais des Congrès Acropolis on Sunday .
Austria will have no fears of facing us again having finished above the Republic in the last campaign. Turkey and Israel are intimidating places to go away to while Slovakia earned two draws against us on the road to Euro 2012. Poland too would fancy a pop at Ireland. In our recent encounters in Dublin, Polish supporters outnumbered the home crowd.
In Pot 4, the prospect of celtic derbies with Wales and Scotland will do nothing to ease Martin O’Neill’s mind. Montenegro have been improving and finished third in their last qualifying group behind England and Ukraine while we drew twice with Bulgaria in the World Cup 2010 qualifiers. If we think we were robbed by France in a play-off, Estonia were incensed after our first leg victory on the way to Euro 2012, when they were reduced to 9 men. They will relish a chance at revenge.
There’s plenty of cause for concern but the carrot here is that second place qualifies automatically. In the past, we’ve reached the play-off places under Mick McCarthy and Giovanni Trapattoni. Repeat that feat under Mssrs O’Neill and Keane and we’ll be packing our bags for France.
Sunday’s draw will be made up of eight groups of six teams and one of five teams. The nine group winners, the nine group runners-up and the best third-placed side will qualify directly for the final tournament. The eight remaining third-placed teams will contest play-offs to determine the last four qualifiers for the 24-nation finals.
For the first time, qualifying takes place under the new Week of Football concept, which sees games played from Thursday to Tuesday. On double-header matchweeks, teams will play on Thursday/Sunday, Friday/Monday or Saturday/Tuesday.
France will be included in the five-team group for the purposes of friendly fixtures on qualifying match-nights.
The draw takes place at 11am Irish time on Sunday.
Pot 1: Spain (holders), Germany, Netherlands, Italy, England, Portugal, Greece, Russia, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Pot 2: Ukraine, Croatia, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium, Czech Republic, Hungary, Republic of Ireland
Pot 3: Serbia, Turkey, Slovenia, Israel, Norway, Slovakia,Romania, Austria, Poland
Pot 4: Montenegro, Armenia, Scotland, Finland, Latvia, Wales, Bulgaria, Estonia, Belarus
Pot 5: Iceland, Northern Ireland, Albania, Lithuania, Moldova, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Cyprus
Pot 6: Luxembourg, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, Faroe Islands, Malta, Andorra, San Marino, Gibraltar