Ireland to meet Germany again in Euro qualifiers
By Aidan Begley
Whilst those who have qualified for the 2014 World Cup will have more pressing matters on their minds, the international teams who decided to take the summer off instead of heading to Brazil (i.e. Ireland – just think of how much the flights would have been and the late nights stopping up to watch it) were eagerly awaiting the Euro 2016 qualifying group draw when it was held last month.
The curse about going to a major tournament is not only the fact that you’re not taking part in a prestigious sporting event, but also, it leaves you with a just under a year without a competitive fixture.
Ireland Manager, Martin O’Neill, was at the draw when it was held last month and watched as the boys in green were drawn against Germany, Poland, Georgia, Scotland and newcomers Gibraltar – after which he described the draw as ‘challenging’.
Being paired with Germany again will bring back memories of the 6-1 trouncing that Ireland received at the Aviva Stadium in October 2012 during the World Cup qualifiers, which was followed up by a slightly more respectable 3-0 defeat to the Germans last October.
The last international game Ireland played was back in November and ironically it was in Poland, where both teams played out a dire 0-0 draw in a game which had been agreed between both the Irish and Polish FA as a thank you to Ireland for their fans and the colour the support they brought to Euro 2012.
Granted, Ireland didn’t bring a performance or goals to match, but, we’ll let sleeping dogs lie on that one.
The Irish also have a good idea of both the Georgian and Scottish sides having played both teams in recent years too. Then managed by Giovanni Trapattoni, Ireland comfortably defeated Georgia 4-0 at the Aviva Stadium last June, with goals from Richard Keogh, Simon Cox and two from Robbie Keane.
The last time Ireland enjoyed a Celtic derby with Scotland was in May 2011 in Dublin as part of the Carling Nations Cup. Robbie Keane was on target as Ireland were narrow 1-0 winners. Scouting the opposition shouldn’t be too much of an issue with a number of the Scottish team playing in the English league, as well as O’Neill’s knowledge of the game in Scotland after his successful tenure as Celtic boss.
The only side Ireland will have no information on are the newest members of the UEFA family, Gibraltar. The British controlled sovereignty on the Spanish peninsular were only given full UEFA status last May and played their first game against Slovakia in November 2013, securing a credible 0-0 draw in the process.
Due to their stadium not meeting UEFA regulations for competitive games, the Gibraltans have to play their ‘home’ games four hours away in Faro on the Algarve. With Ireland due to play their game ‘away’ to Gibraltar in September 2015, that’ll make a nice week or weekend break in the sun for many fans.
Gibraltar haven’t been accepted as a full member by FIFA, so are not eligible to play in the qualification process for the World Cup, however, this may well have changed by the time the qualification draw process takes place for the 2018 World Cup in 2016.
And just in case you were wondering, Gibraltar’s biggest ever victory was a 12-0 defeat of Sark from the Channel Islands back in 2003.
There are 24 places up for grabs for the 2016 tournament being held in France. The top two from each of the eight groups will automatically qualify, alongside hosts France. The best placed team finishing in third will also secure a direct spot in the finals; with the remaining eight teams who finish in third spot taking place in play-offs, with the winners taking up the final four places.
So looking at the group, Ireland are probably in a shoot-out with Poland for the second automatic spot and Scotland for the play-off spot. Not an insurmountable challenge, but certainly there could have been easier groups. That said, in terms of travelling, it’s a great group to have. No energy-sapping trips out to Kazakhstan or Armenia this time round.
Speaking after the draw, O’Neill said: “It’s tough. I’m sure there’s other groups we might have preferred to be in but we’ll get on with it. Germany you would say are the outstanding side in the group but there’s plenty to fight for.
“It looks like a group, Germany apart, where teams might be able to take points off each other. It is exciting. There’s some groups you might call mundane but we’re definitely in an exciting group. It’s a terrific, terrific draw.”
O’Neill also admitted it was ironic that his Republic of Ireland side will have to slug it out with Scotland for Euro 2016 qualification. It was the FAI and SFAI which proposed the expansion of the European Championship agreed by UEFA member nations back in 2009.
O’Neill said: “I think it’s the toughest group but it’s an exciting one. We have got Scotland, we have Poland who we have played in a recent friendly and whose recent efforts (against England) at Wembley were not too bad at all. Somebody told me (the associations had proposed expanding the tournament) so it is ironic they have ended up in the same group.”
It will bring O’Neill face to face with his fellow ex-Celtic manager Gordon Strachan and he added: “They will be great occasions I hope. I’m sure he (Strachan) is looking forward to it. I’m sure he’ll be as excited as I am myself. It’s tough, there are other groups we might have preferred to be in but we’ll get on with it.
Goalkeeper David Forde has said Ireland will be at their best if they are to qualify from what he described as a “mini-group” within their qualification group.
“It’s a tough group,” said Forde. “You’re looking at Germany probably looking like the strongest outfit, and Poland and Scotland and ourselves in that mini-group to qualify for the second spot.
“We beat Poland at home and we drew 0-0 away recently, as well, so you know we know we need to be on our game, and if we are up to our best, I think we can qualify.”
He also stressed the importance of Ireland being at their best for their away trips. “You’re looking at Hampden Park, which is a fantastic venue, and Poland, their national [venue is in] Warsaw; they’ve had some big results there. [We’re] just going to have to be at it, and up to our best.”
Euro 2016 qualifier fixtures (Kick-offs Irish time):
- Georgia v Ireland, 7 September 2014, KO 5pm
- Ireland v Gibraltar, 11 October 2014, KO 5pm
- Germany v Ireland, 14 October 2014, KO 7.45pm
- Scotland v Ireland, 14 November 2014, KO 7.45pm
- Ireland v Poland, 29 March 2015, KO 7.45pm
- Ireland v Scotland, 13 June 2015, KO 5pm
- Gibraltar v Ireland, 4 September 2015, KO 7.45pm
- Ireland v Georgia, 7 September 2015, KO 7.45pm
- Ireland v Germany, 8 October 2015, KO 7.45pm
- Poland v Ireland, 11 October 2015, KO 7.45pm
The groups in full are:
- Group A: Netherlands, Kazakhstan, Iceland, Latvia, Turkey, Czech Republic
- Group B: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Andorra, Cyprus, Wales, Israel, Belgium
- Group C: Spain, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Belarus, Slovakia, Ukraine
- Group D: Germany, Gibraltar, Georgia, Scotland, Poland, Republic of Ireland
- Group E: England, San Marino, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovenia, Switzerland
- Group F: Greece, Faroe Islands, Northern Ireland, Finland, Romania, Hungary
- Group G: Russia, Liechtenstein, Moldova, Montenegro, Austria, Sweden
- Group H: Italy, Malta, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Norway, Croatia
- Group I: Portugal, Albania, Armenia, Serbia, Denmark, *France
- * Hosts France will join Group I, where they will play friendlies against the other teams in the group.