So here we go again then, play-off heartbreak or finally success at the final hurdle?
The next month or so will determine whether or not the Boys in Green need to keep next June free in their diary. Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Armenia booked Trap’s men a play-off spot and a step closer to a first European Championships appearance since 1988.
The draw for the play-offs take place in Poland on Thursday and the road to Poland/Ukraine starts here. We need a favourable draw and have been given a boost after the news that we will be seeded in Thursday’s draw. There are eight countries who finished second in their qualification groups with us being one of them. Four of these sides are seeded and four aren’t. The seeded countries cannot draw each other and the fact that we are seeded means ties with Portugal, Croatia and Czech Republic. The countries we can come up against are Bosnia, Turkey, Estonia and Montenegro.
We don’t have a great record in play-offs for major tournaments with Paris two years ago still ripe in the back of Irish minds. The infamous Henry handball sent us crashing out and lets hope there are no such injustices this time round. So, who do we want to get in the draw? Speaking after the game to the media on Tuesday, the general feeling between the players was that it doesn’t matter who we get and it’s out of our hands who we get but whoever we meet, we just have to go out and get the results. The likes of Richard Dunne, Stephen Kelly and Shay Given were pleased with the qualification campaign but other players were looking back on poor home results to Russia and Slovakia which cost us automatic qualification which was in our grasp. Anyway the past is the past and we now have to look ahead to the play-offs. I have a look at our potential opponents….
Perhaps the toughest side we could draw, the current World number 22 country will be an extremely tough test. They pushed France all the way in the group stages and were 13 minutes away from forcing France into the play-offs but they couldn’t hold on for the win. They are a side on the up after like Ireland being defeated in the 2010 World Cup play-offs. Despite this they have never qualified for a major tournament since forming in 1998. They impressed in Group D and have some quality players. Man City’s Edin Dzeko stands out and if Ireland do face them, Richard Dunne and the defence would be extremely wary of Dzeko. Stoke City’s Asmir Begovic is their ‘keeper while Rangers’ Sasa Papac is a key part of their defence.
Turkey have declined in recent years and are not the side they were a couple of years back. Regardless they will provide a big hurdle for Ireland to overcome. Their head coach is former Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink and they finished 3rd in the 2002 World Cup but as mentioned things have changed since then it seems. Currently ranked 24th they have some quality players Hamit Altintop being their main man. Most of their squad play for the top sides in Spain or Turkey so they will be a massive challenge for the Boys in Green, not to mention the hostile atmosphere in Turkey for the away leg.
The country that most people will want to draw on Thursday. Ranked 51st, the Estonians surprised a lot of people by making it this far through Group C. They finished only behind Italy and eliminated big footballing nations Slovenia and Serbia whilst making the play-offs. They have never qualified for a major tournament and would be the preferred choice for Trap’s men. They have no recognisable players really but Middlesborough striker Tarmo Kink is their only player to play in Britain.
A side we probably don’t know whether or not we want to draw them. They have some top quality footballers but since their split with Serbia they haven’t made a major tournament and are really just establishing themselves at the minute. Despite this they have improved greatly since their formation in 2006 and are ranked 26th in the World. The scenes which followed their draw with England last week showed how much it meant to the nation and how passionate they are about football so an away trip to Montenegro would be extremely tricky. Man City’s Stefan Savic, Simon Vuckcevic, Stefan Jovetic and skipper Mirko Vucinic are all their danger men and will test out Ireland’s solid defence.
The draw takes place on Thursday in Krakow, Poland at 13.00 GMT. Get all the reaction on Sports News Ireland.