Irish eyes on lucky draws for Euro 2020 vision in Dublin
IT'S not always, or even often, the case but the dreams of the players, managers, and supporters of the two Irish teams are almost identical this weekend.
Ahead of Sunday's draw for the Euro 2020 qualifiers in Dublin the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are in the same seeding pot (3) so will both want to avoid largely the same nations.
Admittedly, NI's Niall McGinn has expressed a desire to draw England, who might not be dream opponents for what are now Mick McCarthy's men.
The Aberdeen winger commented: ""We have played against all the big teams but getting the likes of England to Windsor Park would be unbelievable, to play against players you see on the television in the Premier League all the time.
"The likes of Spain too, but there are loads of [big] teams. If we get the chance to play these teams in friendlies or the Euros - so be it."
However, both Irish outfits would want either Poland or Switzerland from among the 10 top ranked teams, and probably prefer not to come up against the likes of Belgium and France.
The Republic of Ireland famously beat Germany during Euro 2016 qualification but might not fancy their chances again against undoubtedly the strongest of the second seeds, even if Denmark currently have a higher Fifa world ranking.
Similarly, although Northern Ireland have a good relationship with the Germans, there's little doubt that their presence in your group would make it much harder to win one of the two automatic qualifying slots.
There are no mugs among the second seeds, obviously, but both Irish teams might fancy another crack against Bosnia & Herzegovina or Wales.
Below, in pots four, five, and six the standard is lower, of course, but there are still some dangerous sides there, such as Romania, Greece, and Montenegro.
The ideal draw from pot five would be Gibraltar, who earned their elevation from the lowest ranking section due to their recent successes in the inaugural Nations League. Luxembourg would also be a decent draw, although Michael O'Neill will still have the bitter memory of defeat there in September 2013.
It's a moot point whether it would be better to be drawn in a group of five or six teams, which is a 50-50 chance of being the outcome of the draw. The latter option would fill all 10 match-days from late March to mid-November 2019; the former would leave two dates free which could be filled by friendlies.
Latvia would be the team to avoid from pot 6, while Malta can prove tricky, but otherwise Andorra, Liechtenstein, and San Marino would pose few problems.
The teams that neither Irish team can be drawn against, as they are also in pot 3, are: Bulgaria, Finland, Israel, Norway, Serbia, Scotland, Slovakia, and Turkey.
Additionally, as one of the 12 host nations for the new-look Euro 2020, the Republic of Ireland will only have a maximum of one of the other 11 in their group to increase the chances for these hosts to qualify for the finals tournament.
Those other hosts are: Azerbaijan, Denmark, England, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Russia, Scotland, Spain, and the Netherlands (although, as stated, the Republic cannot meet Scotland anyway as they are also in pot 3).
Although the aim is to end up in the European version of the 'G20', among the 20 automatic qualifiers for Euro 2020 by finishing in one of the top two slots in their group, both Northern Ireland and the Republic are likely to have the safety net of the Nations League play-offs in March 2020.
Both teams were relegated from League B, of course, but if sides who topped their own Nations League group – such as Bosnia & Herzegovina, Denmark, Sweden, and Ukraine – and teams who finished above the Irish sides (Austria and Wales) qualify automatically then there will be knock-on effect which should send NI and the Republic into the UNL play-offs.
DREAM draw for the Irish teams:
Poland; Bosnia & Herzegovina; Cyprus; Gibraltar; (and maybe San Marino).
NIGHTMARE scenario for NI:
France; Germany; Romania; FYR Macedonia; Latvia.
NIGHTMARE scenario for RoI:
France; Germany; Montenegro; FYR Macedonia; Latvia.
Euro 2020 qualifers draw, the pots:
UEFA Nations League pot (4): Switzerland*, Portugal*, Netherlands*, England*
Pot 1 (6): Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Poland
Pot 2 (10): Germany, Iceland, Bosnia and Herzegovina*, Ukraine*, Denmark*, Sweden*, Russia, Austria, Wales, Czech Republic
Pot 3 (10): Slovakia, Turkey, Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland*, Norway*, Serbia*, Finland*, Bulgaria, Israel
Pot 4 (10): Hungary, Romania, Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Cyprus, Estonia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Georgia*
Pot 5 (10): FYR Macedonia*, Kosovo*, Belarus*, Luxembourg, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Gibraltar, Faroe Islands
Pot 6 (5): Latvia, Liechtenstein, Andorra, Malta, San Marino
*Already ensured at least a play-off place after winning UEFA Nations League group
PA guide to the Euro 2020 draw:
The groups for the Euro 2020 qualifiers will be drawn this weekend, and if you were bamboozled by the intricacies of the Nations League you are going to love this.
When and where is the draw?
The draw will take place at the Convention Centre in Dublin from 11am on Sunday December 2. As you will see as you read on, it could take some time.
Are England seeded?
Essentially, yes, though UEFA are not using the word this time around. England are one of the four teams in the Nations League pot after reaching the finals of the competition, which means they will be placed into any one of Groups A-D and be handed four other opponents from Pots 2-5.
What about Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales?
The make-up of the remaining six pots was determined by finishing positions in the Nations League. Wales, who will remain in League B after finishing second in their group, are in Pot 2, while Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are in Pot 3 after suffering relegation from the second tier. Scotland are also in Pot 3 after earning promotion from League C.
How many groups will there be?
This may sound like 'East Fife 4 Forfar 5', but please stick with us... The 55 participating nations will be split into 10 groups, five with five teams and five with six teams. Four of the five five-team groups will include those countries through to the Nations League Finals to ensure there is room on their fixture lists for the extra games.
Will any countries be kept apart for any reason?
With 12 nations playing a role in hosting Euro 2020, nobody qualifies automatically but those involved will be given every chance to make it. To that extent, no more than two host nations - Azerbaijan, Denmark, England, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Italy, Republic of Ireland, Romania, Russia, Scotland, and Spain - can be in any one group.
Steps will also be taken to ensure Spain and Gibraltar, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Kosovo, and Kosovo and Serbia, are kept apart. Additionally, to minimise travel, UEFA has placed some restrictions on the number of teams from the western side of Europe who can be drawn to face Kazakhstan or Azerbaijan, or from southern Europe to face Iceland, but we really do not have the space for all of that here.
A simple answer at last. The top two teams in each group will be playing at Euro 2020.
When will the matches be played?
The 10 match-days will be spread across the five international windows in 2019, with fixtures in March, June, September, October and November.
How does the Nations League dovetail into the traditional qualifying phase?
Seamlessly, of course. It is actually not as complicated as it first appears, though that is not to say not at all. The Nations League Finals will take place in June 2019, with the four nations involved [England, Portugal, Switzerland, and the Netherlands] playing fewer qualifiers to ensure they are free to take part. Additionally, each of the four divisions in the Nations League gets one place at Euro 2020, to be determined by play-offs that will be played in early 2020. The teams that won their Nations League groups will contest the play-offs, unless they earn a place through the qualifiers in which case the play-off place will go to the next team in the rankings. Got it?
When will the Euro 2020 qualifying play-offs be?
The play-off draw will take place on November 22 next year, with the play-offs themselves taking place in March 2020. The semi-finals will be on March 26-28 and the finals on March 29-31.
Where will the Euro 2020 finals be played, and what dates?
The finals will take place from June 12 to July 12 2020, with matches being played throughout Europe. As listed above, Azerbaijan, Denmark, England, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Italy, Republic of Ireland, Romania, Russia, Scotland, and Spain will all host matches, with the semi-finals and final at Wembley.