Mc­Carthy stoic ahead of per­ilous draw as third seeds

Ire­land must punch above its weight to avoid be­ing among first host na­tions not to qual­ify

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - Em­met Mal­one Soc­cer Cor­re­spon­dent

There will be all sorts of his­tory made in Euro 2020. Ire­land, hav­ing suc­cess­fully won the right to stage a por­tion of the tour­na­ment that will, for the first time, be spread across 12 na­tions, must now avoid be­ing one of the first coun­tries to host a por­tion of the fi­nals hav­ing failed to qual­ify for them. Three months be­fore the qual­i­fy­ing games be­gin, Mick Mc­Carthy and his em­ploy­ers will get a bet­ter sense of the team’s chances by late Sun­day morn­ing at the Con­ven­tion Cen­tre in Dublin, where fed­er­a­tion of­fi­cials from across the Con­ti­nent will gather for the draw.

“I can’t do any­thing about so it doesn’t mat­ter what I want, re­ally,” says the newly reap­pointed Ire­land boss when asked what he is hop­ing for out of the process. “We have no get-to­geth­ers, no friendlies, noth­ing re­ally that we can use to pre­pare for it, so we will see what hap­pens and then get on with the busi­ness of cop­ing with it as best we can.

“I’ll take what comes as I al­ways have done be­fore and then see what I can do to deal with it.”

Ire­land’s poor per­for­mance in the Na­tions League means Mc­Carthy’s men will be third seeds and will there­fore have to punch at least one place above their weight in or­der to se­cure one of the au­to­matic qual­i­fi­ca­tion spots on of­fer from each group.

Au­to­mat­i­cally

Fail, though, and as long as six teams who did worse than them in the new com­pe­ti­tion do not qual­ify au­to­mat­i­cally, there will still be the fall­back of a play-off in the spring of 2020.

If there is one thing that all of the man­agers who har­bour se­ri­ous hopes of qual­i­fi­ca­tion seem sure to agree on head­ing into the draw, it is a de­sire to avoid Ger­many as their group’s se­cond seeds.

Joachim Löw’s side may have made life a lit­tle more com­pli­cated for them­selves than they needed to with a poor Na­tions League cam­paign of their own, but the fear will be that they will now make it a lot more chal­leng­ing for some­body else. There are no pushovers in Pot A, and so draw­ing a side of Ger­many’s stature from Pot B would surely be re­garded as a set­back for Mc­Carthy.

The 59-year-old un­der­stands the im­por­tance of hav­ing a bit of luck on these oc­ca­sions. Dur­ing his pre­vi­ous stint in the job, Ire­land lost qual­i­fi­ca­tion play-offs in 1997 and 1999, against Bel­gium and Turkey re­spec­tively. In 2001 they might have drawn with ei­ther of those two sides again or, as it hap­pens, the Ger­mans, but in­stead landed Iran.

Quite what the equiv­a­lent stroke of good for­tune on this oc­ca­sion might be is hard to gauge. Poland are, by just about ev­ery mea­sure, the low­est-ranked side but Mc­Carthy might quite fancy an­other crack at the Nether­lands.

The Dutch are still in re­cov­ery after a very poor spell with home de­feats of both France and Ger­many (against whom they scored five times over two games) in the Na­tions League hav­ing taken them to the semi-fi­nals.

Still, Mc­Carthy will have fond mem­o­ries of their visit to Dublin in Septem­ber 2001 and the 1-0 win that was prob­a­bly the high­light of his first stint in charge. Hav­ing drawn 2-2 away, Ire­land ac­tu­ally took four points from them over the course of a very good cam­paign. Do­ing any­thing like that again now would be the equiv­a­lent of plant­ing one foot in the next fi­nals.

Good seeds

Per­haps it is more re­al­is­tic, though, to look at se­cond seeds who might be top­pled, and it is hard to look be­yond Ice­land on that front. After a string of out­stand­ing re­sults, two straight tour­na­ment qual­i­fi­ca­tions and a five-year spell as the Eu­ro­pean game’s most re­told suc­cess story, the wheels came off their bus in 2018, a year in which the side, now man­aged by Swe­den’s Erik Ham­ren, en­dured much the same sort of trauma as Ire­land.

With just one win from 16, their re­cent record is ac­tu­ally worse, but then their League A sta­tus in the Na­tions League meant they were play­ing bet­ter teams. Ham­ren will hope to have stead­ied the ship by the time qual­i­fy­ing gets un­der way in March.

Who­ever is drawn, the man­agers will have no say re­gard­ing the or­der in which the games are played, with Uefa sim­ply hand­ing each na­tion a fix­ture list a few hours after the draw is made.

The scale of Mc­Carthy’s task will be clearer then but the aim will be the same re­gard­less: to en­sure the FAI are happy hosts, not the sort who have to sit by, watch and wait for the mu­sic to end and the guests to go home.

He gives ev­ery im­pres­sion of be­liev­ing that he is up to the chal­lenge, but he will take what­ever good for­tune is go­ing to­mor­row.

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