Group D: The low­down on the Repub­lic of Ire­land’s op­po­nents

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Front Page - By Patrick Mad­den

Switzer­land

Fi­farank­ing:8 Man­ager: VladimirPetkovic

■ Be­ing drawn against the team ranked eighth in the world and one of the four Uefa Na­tions League fi­nal­ists should be a daunt­ing prospect but, ul­ti­mately, the Swiss are one of the more favour able op­po­nents Ire­land could have faced from pot one. Switzer­land have qual­i­fied com­fort­ably for the last three ma­jor in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ments, en­ter­ing each as po­ten­tial dark horses. Yet they have failed to re­ally make their mark on the big­gest stage, ex­it­ing the 2014 and 2018 World Cups–and the 2016 Eur os– af­ter the first knock out round.Xh erda nS haqiri re­mains their star player, while 23- year-old Bo rus­sia Dort­mund cen­tre- half Manuel Ak­jani is one of Eu­rope’s bright­est de­fen­sive prospects. Mick McCarthy’s fi­nal game dur­ing his first stint in charge of the Repub­lic of Ire­land was a 2-1 de­feat to the Swiss at home. How­ever, Switzer­land’ s 5-2 Na­tions League win over Bel­gium shows ex­act­ing re­venge won’ t be easy.

Den­mark

Fi­farank­ing: 10 Man­ager: ÅgeHareide ■ Here we go again. The Repub­lic of Ire­land have played Den­mark four times since Novem­ber 2017, grind­ing out three goal less draw sand re­ceiv­ing a pretty grim 5-1 ham­mer in gin Dublin. That night it was Chris­tian Erik­sen who de­stroyed Martin O’ Neil l’ s side and dashed World Cup dreams, and the Tot ten ham schemer will be the ob­vi­ous dan­ger when ri­val­ries are re­newed next year. The Dan es with­out Erik sen–who is truly world class–area far less im­pos­ing propo­si­tion. How­ever, Hareide’s side are well or­gan­ised and the Repub­lic of Ire­land didn’ t get close to break­ing them down in 180 min­utes of huff­ing and puff­ing dur­ing the Na­tions League. That per­haps says more about Ire­land in the dy­ing em­bers of the O’Neill era than it does the Dan es, and pro­vid­ing they are re­ju­ve­nated un­der McCarthy then the lat­est trip to Copen­hagen shouldn’ t be one full of trep­i­da­tion.

Ge­or­gia

Fi­farank­ing: 89 Man­ager: VladimírWeiss ■ Ge­or­gia were one of the Repub­lic of Ire­land’ s op­po­nents dur­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the 2016 Eu­ro­pean Cham­pi­onships, and proved par­tic­u­larly use­ful bed fel­lows. As well as pro­vid­ing Martin O’ Neil l’ s men with six price less points they also did their bit by beat­ing Group D ri­vals Scot­land 1-0. The two sides were brought to­gether again dur­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the 2018 World Cup and the Ge­or­gians dished out a bit of re­venge–hold­ing Ire­land to a par­tic­u­larly dis­mal and dam­ag­ing 1-1 draw in Tbil­isi. While they are ranked 89 thin the world, Vladimír We is s’ s side will en­ter qual­i­fi­ca­tion with plenty of con­fi­dence af­ter a fine Na­tions League cam­paign. Ge­or­gia earned pro­mo­tion from League D af­ter rom ping their group, win­ning five games and draw­ing one with a goal dif­fer­ence of +10. Granted, their op­po­nents were Kaza­khstan, Latvia and An­dorra, but now they’ ve picked up the win­ning habit the Ge­or­gians could be po­ten­tially sticky op­po­si­tion.

Gi­bral­tar

Fi­farank­ing: 194 Man­ager: JulioCésarRibas ■ Gi­bral­tar were an­other mem­ber of the Repub­lic of Ire­land’ sE uro 2016 qual­i­fi­ca­tion group, which was their first cam­paign af­ter be­ing granted full mem­ber sta­tus by Uefa in 2013. And like Ge­or­gia, Gi­bral­tar pro­vided six points on the jour­ney to France, with Ire­land win­ning 7-0 at home and 4-0 away–Rob­bie Keane help­ing him­self to a hat-trick and then a brace. JulioCés ar Rib as’ ss idea re cur­rently ranked 194th in the world, and they were the 55th seed out of the 55 sides who are bid­ding for Euros qual­i­fi­ca­tion. De­spite be­ing ranked bot­tom they en­joyed a good Na­tions League cam­paign, beat­ing Ar­me­nia 1-0 at home and Liecht­en­stein 2-1 away–avoid­ing bot­tom spot in their Di­vi­sion Four group. How­ever, if the Repub­lic of Ire­land are to have any hopes of mak­ing it to Euro 2020 then two goal-dif­fer­ence boo sting vic­to­ries over Gi­bral­tar area­must.

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