Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland on potential collision course

Pavel Hapal, left, head coach of Slovakia, shakes hands with Mick McCarthy, right, head coach of Republic of Ireland, in front of the Henri Delaunay trophy, during the drawing of the UEFA EURO 2020 Play-off matches at the UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, Friday, Nov. 22, 2019. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)
By PA and Padraig Kelly

THE Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are on a Windsor Park collision course following the Euro 2020 play-off draw yesterday.

The semi-final pairings were already known prior to the draw with Mick McCarthy's men away to Slovakia on March 26 with Northern Ireland in Bosnia on the same night.

Yesterday's draw confirmed that the winner of the Bosnia and Northern Ireland fixture would have home advantage on March 31 for the Path B final meaning that the Republic of Ireland require two away successes to make the tournament outright.

They should be optimistic of reaching the final having never lost to Slovakia in five previous meetings, but they have only one win to their name, a 1-0 victory back in 2007 when Kevin Doyle's early goal gave Steve Staunton's side a Euro 2008 qualifying win at Croke Park. Four draws have followed, three in qualifiers and the most recent a 2-2 friendly draw at the Aviva Stadium in 2016.

“The only game that matters to us now is Slovakia,” McCarthy told the FAI website after attending the draw in Nyon.

“If we win the first game against Slovakia then I will fancy our chances anywhere else. We will have our analysis done on all three teams but our focus is on Slovakia first and getting ready for them in the New Year.

“We know what we have to do, we have to go there and win the game. Home advantage is just that but if we play as well as we did against Denmark then I will settle for that. We set the bar high on Monday night and that is the standard we will have to play at to win two games.”

The news of a potential Windsor Park final has offered a carrot to Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill. The 50-year-old, appointed Stoke boss earlier this month, plans to remain in charge of Northern Ireland for the play-offs but thought he may well have been in charge in Belfast for the final time in last weekend's goalless draw with Holland.

They have however lost their only two previous meetings with Bosnia, both last year in the Nations League as they went down 2-1 in Belfast and 2-0 in Sarajevo. But there was some reason for hope. Those defeats both came during a punishing campaign in which O'Neill's new-look side took their licks playing a more possession-based style. They lost at Windsor despite having 26 shots at goal to Bosnia's five, while they hit the post three times in Sarajevo.

Republic of Ireland fans will have to wait until December 20 for final confirmation of the match venue in Slovakia.

FAI officials met with their Slovakian counterparts in Nyon to discuss the venue and ticket allocation for visiting fans.

An FAI spokesman said: “Slovakia have intimated the game will take place in Bratislava but they have some final checks to make on the ground there before they can confirm it as the venue.”

Scotland, meanwhile, will host Israel in their Patch C semi-final. Should they win, they will face the winner of the other Path C semi-final between Norway and Serbia who will host the play-off final.

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