Football/Soccer

Mick McCarthy happy as 'magic fingers' hand Republic of Ireland easier Euro 2020 draw

Kenny Archer in Dublin

Euro 2020 qualifiers draw

MICK McCarthy stared ‘death’ (or at least its group) in the face – and laughed.

No doubt he was laughing even more after, as he put it, some “magic fingers” switched his side away from meetings with the Netherlands and Germany and into Group D, along with Switzerland and Denmark, later joined by Georgia and Gibraltar.

Even those last opponents could have been tougher, but Azerbaijan were also moved out of that section and instead placed in Group E, replaced by ‘the Rock’.

Admitting that he was “slightly relieved”, the new Republic of Ireland boss still insisted that any celebrations about the draw were “a bit premature”, pointing to the quality of both the Swiss and the Danes, and also citing Georgia as tricky opponents.

Home advantage literally paid off in Dublin, although not because the Euro 2020 qualifiers draw was taking place there.

Although McCarthy said with a smile that some might suggest “skulduggery” was involved, the fortune that favoured his team was all set out in the draw format beforehand.

The fact that the Republic are one of a dozen hosts of a one-off format for the tournament meant that they could not be placed in a group with more than one other such country – and both the Netherlands and Germany will also accommodate some Euro 2020 finals games.

McCarthy recalled the range of emotions that swept over him as his team’s named was drawn out:

“Everybody sort of laughed – and then suddenly the computer flashes up the screen and we’re suddenly out of that group and, of course, Michael [O’Neill] and Northern Ireland get it.

“Then I heard a voice from behind, ‘It’s better to be lucky than good sometimes’ – Michael said that to me.”

While accepting that his side had dodged two big bullets, McCarthy insisted that there were still tough games ahead.

Switzerland were his last opposition as Republic of Ireland boss, inflicting a 2-1 defeat in Dublin 16 years ago in qualifying for Euro 2004, and they’re a strong side at present too.

“There was a collective sigh of relief – but then we’re in with Switzerland and Denmark. I’m at pains to say it’s not easy…

“Switzerland have been one of the best sides in Europe in recent times, I watched them in the Nations League and though they were excellent. And Denmark have been our nemesis…

“Georgia is a fair trip, and it’s always unusual conditions to play in there. But the fact that we don’t have to travel to Azerbaijan, which is even further away, does help.

“I’ve been told that Gibraltar will have a plastic pitch, which will give them an advantage.”

However, he did say he was setting his sights on being one of the 20 automatic qualifiers for Euro 2020:

“I’m always confident that we can beat those teams. Over my playing and management career at Lansdowne Road, although it’s not that now, if you got the crowd behind us, we could beat anybody there.

“I’m happy enough with the draw. I always look at these things and think: ‘Whoever we get drawn against, are they looking at us and thinking “That’s going to be easy”. I would hope they’re not.

“I go back 18 years to when we were drawn against Portugal and Holland, for the 2002 World Cup, and we didn’t lose to any of them. We beat Holland to qualify for the play-offs and we qualified.

“So whichever group we were in, I wouldn’t look at it and think ‘We’ve no chance’.”

Euro 2020 qualifying draw:

Group A: England, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Kosovo.

Group B: Portugal, Ukraine, Serbia, Lithuania, Luxembourg.

Group C: Holland, Germany, Northern Ireland, Estonia, Belarus.

Group D: Switzerland, Denmark, Republic of Ireland, Georgia, Gibraltar.

Group E: Croatia, Wales, Slovakia, Hungary, Azerbaijan.

Group F: Spain, Sweden, Norway, Romania, Faroe Islands, Malta.

Group G: Poland, Austria, Israel, Slovenia, Macedonia, Latvia.

Group H: France, Iceland, Turkey, Albania, Moldova, Andorra.

Group I: Belgium, Russia, Scotland, Cyprus, Kazakhstan, San Marino.

Group J: Italy, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Finland, Greece, Armenia, Liechtenstein.

* Ties to be played in the March 21-26, June 7-8 and 10-11, September 5-10, October 10-15, and November 14-19 international breaks next year.

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