After last night’s games completed the group stages of qualifying for next summer’s European Championships in France, Ireland now know that they will face one from Sweden, Ukraine, Hungary and Bosnia-Herzegovina in the play-offs.
Martin O’Neill’s men would have needed various results to go their way on Tuesday night to become a seeded team for Sunday’s draw but instead they will now have to compete against one of four tricky opponents if they are to join neighbours Northern Ireland, Wales and England in the land of wine and berets next summer.
Turkey struck late to snatch a 1-0 win against the already qualified Iceland to qualify as the best third-placed team, while Croatia stuttered to a 1-0 in Malta to also qualify automatically. However there was to be no such luck for a disappointing Netherlands side that lost 3-2 at home to 10-man Czech Rep, meaning they do not even make the play-offs this time around.
The play-off draw takes place this Sunday, with both legs of to come next month. We have a brief look at Ireland’s potential opponents below:
Euro 2016 Play-offs
Republic of Ireland
Sweden: The men in blue and yellow finished 3rd behind an impressive Austria side and Russia, picking up only two points against the two in the process, going down 4-1 at home to Austria and 1-0 in Moscow. Of their ten games they won 5, drew 3 and lost 2. Whether they perform or not depends mainly on the mood of their main man Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The PSG man scored 8 of their fifteen goals in the group stages. Sweden faced the Irish in their unsuccessful qualifying campaign for the last World Cup, drawing 0-0 in Stockholm before coming away with a 2-1 win from Dublin.
Key Man: Ibrahimovic
FIFA World Ranking: 45th
Ukraine: A 1-0 loss at home to Spain in the final round of games meant Mikhail Ivanovich’s men had to settle for a play-off spot behind Spain and Slovakia. The men from Eastern Europe also suffered narrow 1-0 defeats in Spain and Bratislava, so they are not that far off the pace and would surely be the one the boys in green will be looking to avoid come Sunday’s draw. They are also the highest ranked team of the four seeded sides. Midfielder Andriy Yarmolenko is behind most things good when Ukraine turn on the style and with twenty goals to his name in fifty-two internationals it comes as no surprise that Jose Mourinho travelled to see him against the Spain the other night.
Key Man: Yarmolenko
FIFA World Ranking: 24th
Hungary: Hungary finished 3rd in what was perceived as one of the ‘weaker’ groups but try telling that to a Northern Ireland fan!! They clinched the play-off spot with consummate ease ahead of Finland, the Faroe Islands and a very, very disappointing Greek side but were nudged out of the 2nd automatic spot by Romania. To give the Hungarians credit at one stage during the final weekend of games it looked as if they would qualify as the best third-placed team but, only to be pipped at the post by Turkey on the final night. They will probably be the side that Martin O’Neill, his management team and players know least about and that in itself can be a dangerous thing. After all, there will be no ‘easy’ draw for this Irish team. They’ve come a long way from the side that lost 8-1 to the Netherlands two years ago and do have some names familiar to followers of the English leagues. Bogdan, Zera, Nemeth and Priskin to name a few but none to get too worried about. However they are twenty-one places above the Republic in the World Rankings!!
Key Man: Dzsudzsak
FIFA World Ranking: 33rd
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Any side that Edin Dzeko can’t force his way into must be half decent right? Well I suppose it depends how you rate the former Man City player!! The Bosnians had to settle for 3rd spot behind the new world number ones elect Belguim and Gareth Bale, sorry I meant Wales. It was their form early on in the qualifiers that proved their downfall, failing to win in their first four games (including a 2-1 home defeat to Cyprus in the opener) before finally brushing the mighty Andorra aside 3-0. They went on to win four of their next five games, falling only to table-toppers Belguim. Like the other three seeded teams, Ireland won’t fancy getting them but they have to draw someone and if it isn’t Hungary, Bosnia could be next in line. They have plenty of house-hold names such as Begovic, Pjanic and Besic and prior to the World Cup in Brazil last year (where they failed terribly) they were lauded for their excellent style of play. If they click they could give the Irish the run around.
Key Man: Pjanic, Dzeko (if given the chance)
FIFA World Ranking: 30th