Ire­land’s anx­ious wait to learn op­po­nents

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER - COLIN YOUNG

IRE­LAND’S drop to the third pot for to­day’s UEFA 2020 draw, which takes place in Dublin’s Con­ven­tion Cen­tre from 11.0 this morn­ing, has un­doubt­edly made qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the fi­nals matches at the Aviva Sta­dium much harder for Ire­land and their new man­ager.

But it is de­served. Ire­land have avoided the teams at their cur­rent level and must look at some of the names among the sec­ond seeds with dread. Den­mark and Wales await again, the rel­e­gated Ger­mans are in there too.

Top seeds Eng­land are ob­vi­ously the team to avoid, al­though some of the al­ter­na­tives in their pot are equally daunt­ing. Ire­land do not need to play this Eng­land team right now.

If Ire­land draw Eng­land, the only bonus is they can­not be in Ger­many’s group, which is also the case if they are grouped with Italy, Nether­lands or Spain. Only two Euro 2020 Fi­nals hosts can be in any one qual­i­fy­ing group to al­low all the cho­sen teams a chance of qual­i­fy­ing. The 12 host na­tions and their pots are: Azer­bai­jan (5), Den­mark (2), Eng­land (1), Ger­many (1), Hun­gary (4), Italy (1), Nether­lands (1), Re­pub­lic of Ire­land (3), Ro­ma­nia (4), Rus­sia (2), Scot­land (3), Spain (1).

Ger­many’s re­mark­able fall down the rank­ings since their World Cup col­lapse will be no con­so­la­tion to the teams in

Pot One or Pot Three.

The three pro­moted teams in Pot Two are Bos­nia and Herze­gov­ina, Swe­den and Ukraine, who all scraped through with mixed re­sults against the likes of Aus­tria, Czech Re­pub­lic and Rus­sia, who are also among the sec­ond seeds. Ice­land, who lost all four games to Switzer­land and Bel­gium, are, ar­guably, look­ing like the pre­ferred op­tion.

In Pot Four, only Ge­or­gia have gained pro­mo­tion in the Na­tions League, al­though it was from a group con­tain­ing Kaza­khstan, Latvia and An­dorra. They showed signs of im­prove­ment last sea­son when they in­flicted a dam­ag­ing re­sult on Ire­land at the tail-end of the World Cup qual­i­fiers, draw­ing in Tbil­isi.

There are much more com­fort­able trips avail­able to Lithua­nia, who failed to win a league game, Cyprus, Es­to­nia,

or even Al­ba­nia — al­though they did beat Wales two weeks ago.

Pot Five is not with­out its pit­falls. Kosovo are al­ready prov­ing a force at this level and made huge strides as a new team and like Mace­do­nia and Be­larus, they were pro­moted by some dis­tance to join the likes of Gi­bral­tar, who won their first com­pet­i­tive match in Ar­me­nia in Oc­to­ber and fol­lowed that with a 2-1 home win over Liecht­en­stein three days later but lost the re­turn match with Ar­me­nia 6-2.

Liecht­en­stein, Latvia, An­dorra, Malta and San Marino make up Pot Six. They will only be drawn in Groups E to J. Groups A to D con­tain Eng­land, Switzer­land, Nether­lands and Por­tu­gal, who have five team-groups so they can play the Na­tions League play-off in June 2019.

New Ire­land man­ager, Mick McCarthy

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